The June 9, 2014, Anti-Mormon Message of John Dehlin

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The June 9, 2014, Anti-Mormon Message of John Dehlin
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On June 5, 2014, I downloaded the Kindle version of Alex Beam’s American Crucifixion and reviewed Chapter 5, “Polygamy and Its Discontents.” I immediately identified numerous weaknesses of the chapter including the predominant use of secondary sources, the quoting of problematic evidences apparently without checking their reliability, the ignoring of historical data that contradicts his position, the promoting of narrow and often extreme interpretations of available documents, and the prevalence of going beyond the evidence in constructing conclusions.
That day I also learned that on June 9, John Dehlin was going to interview Beam for MormonStories before a live audience of over 40 at a private home located on the north bench in Salt Lake City, and I was invited. My wife and I made the requisite financial contribution to MormonStories because I have found that John has provided some insightful and balanced podcasts in the past (including four interviews with me in 2013).1 I was hopeful that this podcast would follow the same pattern.
We arrived and were intrigued as we spoke to other attendees. However, with one or two exceptions, I could detect no other “believers” in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in the audience. Admittedly, we did not speak to everyone, but we talked with probably over half, and it seemed most had previously been active members but now did not consider themselves to be. That was something I had not anticipated.
I recall a conversation with a young couple. When the woman learned I was a believer in Joseph Smith, she immediately rattled off her list of questions: “What about polyandry? What about the Kinderhook plates? What about the Book of Abraham?” In response, I explained to them why those should not be bothersome. However, as I did so, it became obvious to me that this couple knew very little about the actual historical documents associated with the topics and had failed to investigate the fallacies in the antagonistic arguments. It appeared to me they had simply accepted those arguments and had left the Church. It was also my impression from our brief conversation that they were uninterested in learning new things about those topics if they reflected positively on Joseph Smith or the Church.
After taking a seat, my wife and I spoke with a young man finishing up his degree at BYU. During the conversation, he expressed his disbelief in the Church, but acknowledged he couldn’t publicly reveal his feelings because he would be asked to leave BYU and would not be allowed to graduate at the end of the summer term. This fall he and his wife will move out of state where his wife will attend graduate school. At that time, they intend to remove their names from the records of the Church and stop pretending to believe. Interestingly, though he no longer believes in the tenets of the religion, both he and his wife continue to attend church and hold callings. He shared a story of his wife’s assignment to teach a Relief Society lesson covering a talk that contained doctrine with which she clearly did not agree and how she was able to spin the topic so as to not offend the audience and simultaneously not support the doctrine put forth by the member of the Quorum of the Twelve who had given the talk.
Soon the podcast began. John Dehlin, in his usual friendly and non-confrontational manner, introduced Alex Beam to us and those who would eventually hear the podcast. As the interview progressed, they eventually hit upon the topic of polygamy. Alex’s answers did not surprise me since I had read his chapter on the topic and I knew of his biases and apparent beliefs. However, I was surprised and saddened by John Dehlin’s questions. They reflected a confident view that Joseph Smith was to some degree, a womanizer, hypocrite, and fraud. I don’t think any listener could have concluded otherwise because of the specific words and descriptions of Joseph’s alleged behavior that Dehlin employed in the questions he posed.
Since I took no notes, I will provide only one example, but when the podcast is posted, John Dehlin’s comments will be available. I remember that John invited Alex Beam to speak about Joseph Smith “going after young girls.” I wondered, “What are they talking about?” It is true that Joseph was sealed to two 14 year olds. One (Nancy Maria Winchester) we know nothing about, so to discuss her situation in any way, positive or negative, requires speculation. The second woman, Helen Mar Kimball, was offered to Joseph as a plural wife by her father Heber C. Kimball. There is no evidence the Prophet initiated the process. Importantly, there is strong evidence the sealing was never consummated and no supportive evidence that it was. Joseph was also sealed to a 16 year old and two 17 year olds, but marriages to women of those ages were not uncommon during that time period. Thus I was disappointed at what I perceived to be a conversation discussing historical fiction that was portrayed as documented history in a way that depicted Joseph Smith as a libertine—a man essentially devoid of moral constrains.
John Dehlin asked many other leading questions of Beam, and it seemed he often used loaded language with a tone that negated any notion that Joseph Smith was a true prophet. When I learned two days later that Dehlin’s membership was in jeopardy due to “apostasy,” I was saddened but not surprised.
In a case like this, church leaders may be obligated to act against John Dehlin’s membership, so his audiences will understand his inherent biases. Alma explained: “And now I say unto you that the good shepherd doth call after you; and if you will hearken unto his voice he will bring you into his fold, and ye are his sheep; and he commandeth you that ye suffer no ravenous wolf to enter among you, that ye may not be destroyed” (Alma 5:60). Of course Dehlin is not a “wolf,” but the effect of his messages upon many Church members has been decidedly damaging to their faith and testimony.
Recent posts of John’s Facebook page indicate that he hopes to retain his membership in the Church. But he has also been quoted as saying, “Don’t shoot the messenger.” Of course we don’t shoot messengers, but on the evening of June 9, 2014, Dehlin’s message was full of falsehoods that portrayed Joseph Smith unfairly and negatively.2 However, if he chooses to demonstrate some faith and to work to correct the injury he has done in the future, it would be joyful.3
Though the Internet can be used as a powerful tool for the dissemination of information, it can spread misinformation just as readily. For anyone to put their faith in the hands of John Dehlin (or me) or any other person’s opinions would be foolish. There is a need for solid prayerful research of reputable sources when dealing with deeper issues and meaty teachings. Joseph Smith warned: “Behold, verily I say unto you, that there are many spirits which are false spirits, which have gone forth in the earth, deceiving the world. And also Satan hath sought to deceive you, that he might overthrow you” (D&C 50:2-3). That these false spirits are exploiting the power of the Internet is undeniable.
  1. John Dehlin, 402: Brian Hales Pt. 1—A Refutation of Grant Palmer’s Treatment of Allegations Against Joseph Smith (podcast), interview of Brian Hales, February 21, 2013, accessed June 14, 2014,; John Dehlin, 403: Brian Hales Pt. 2—12 Myths Regarding Joseph Smith’s Polygamy (podcast), interview of Brian Hales, February 21, 2013, accessed June 14, 2014,; John Dehlin, 404: Brian Hales Pt. 3—The Naturalistic vs. Faithful View of Joseph Smith’s Polygamy (podcast), interview of Brian Hales, February 21, 2013, accessed June 14, 2014,; and John Dehlin, 405: Brian Hales Pt. 4—Reconciling Belief with Polygamy (podcast), interview of Brian Hales, February 21, 2013, accessed June 14, 2014,   (back)
  2. This can be shown by comparing his statements to available historical documentation.  (back)
  3. It is not too late: “Inasmuch as they do repent and receive the fulness of my gospel, and become sanctified, I will stay mine hand in judgment” (D&C 39:18). This seems to be an invitation from the Savior to each of us including John Dehlin.  (back)


  1. Roger D.  June 16, 2014

    Joseph Smith’s marriage to any of his wives is prima facie evidence of consummation. Absent direct evidence against it, it’s reasonable to assume any and all were consummated.

    • Brian Hales  June 16, 2014

      This is a common argument sometimes employed by critics who assume that the primary reason for plural marriage was “multiply and replenish” the earth (i.e. have physical offspring). However, D&C 132 gives a much more important reason. It states that all men and women must be sealed to an eternal husband or they are not candidates for exaltation (D&C 132:16-17). This is why non-sexual “eternity only” sealing were performed as well documented in the case of Ruth Vose Sayers. To assume sexuality in the plural marriages, when their primary purpose was to provide an eternal mate, is not supported and is problematic. However, individuals who wish to portray Joseph Smith as a libido-driven womanizer will doubtless continue to promote it. Hopefully we can all use the documentary evidences rather than assumption in forming our views of what occurred in Nauvoo in the early 1840s. Thanks!

      • Brent Reed  June 17, 2014

        “their primary purpose was to provide an eternal mate”

        Then why the polyandry?

        • Brian Hales  June 17, 2014

          As discussed above, there was no true polyandry. That is, sexual polyandry was adultery and did not occur. Several of the women were married to non-members or anti-Mormons and they were sealed to Joseph Smith for eternity only (after death). In addition, several women married to active Latter-day Saints chose Joseph to be their eternal husband over their legal spouses. That seems weird to me, but none of the husbands or other participants left any complaints.

          • Roger D.  June 17, 2014

            It’s very difficult to find true polyandry in early Mormonism. Almost as difficulty as finding true Scotsmen!

          • Brian Hales  June 17, 2014

            My mother was a McGregor — I guess I could be offended :-)

      • Jeff Gardner  June 17, 2014

        In the case of an older single woman without marriage prospects, I could accept that as the reason behind a polygamous marriage. But why on earth would we assume that of a fourteen year old girl, who has an entire life ahead of her to marry whom she wants and thus qualify for exaltation, as you say? And even if so, how is it okay to deprive her of a normal marriage, sex and all, not to mention a normal teenage social life?

        • Brian Hales  June 17, 2014

          You make a good point. I believe Helen’s father put the pressure on her to go along. It seems Vilate, her mother, was not happy about it and later when the sealing prevented Helen from attending dances at the Nauvoo Mansion, she was bothered.

          However, the evidence is strong it was not consummated. Unfortunately we don’t know all the details, but it is interesting that Helen Mar Kimball later wrote two books defending Joseph as a true prophet of God. Observers today complain about what we think Joseph did even though the participants did not.

          It seems if Joseph was the scoundrel or womanizer so many authors claim he was, that some of the participants would have agreed in their memoirs. None of the 35 women sealed to Joseph ever complained against him (admittedly probably half were “eternity only” sealings, but still it is interesting).



          • Roger D.  June 17, 2014

            I think you’ll find that most of Warren Jeff’s wives will defend him as a true prophet as well – even those we consider his victims.

          • Brian Hales  June 17, 2014

            True, but by their fruits you will know them. I attended an MHA presentation by one of the Warren Jeff’s Texas prosecutors. His evils were amazing to me. But there is nothing from Joseph’s critics of that nature. None of his plural wives ever wrote anything negative about him, including the five that left the Church. Assumption is not a good basis for making a parallel.

          • Eric Nelson  June 17, 2014

            I’m curious what you are relying on in saying that “the evidence is strong [Helen Kimball’s marriage with Joseph Smith] was not consummated.” If anything, the evidence compellingly indicates that Joseph did in fact consummate his marriage with Helen. Consider the following:

            1) Following her marriage, Helen confided as follows: “I would never have been sealed to Joseph had I known it was anything more than ceremony. I was young, and they deceived me, by saying the salvation of our whole family depended on it.”

            2) The Book of Mormon strictly forbids polygamy except in instances where the Lord chooses to “raise up seed.” (Jacob 2:30.) Moreover, D&C 132: 63 is unequivocal on the point that polygamy is permitted only “to multiply and replenish the earth” and “bear the souls of men.”

            3) It is fair to conclude that Joseph consummated his marriage to Helen Kimball based on the fact that he consummated many other marriages (including this his polyandrous wives). For example:

            a. Sylvia Sessions (Lyon), on her deathbed told her daughter, Josephine, that she (Josephine) was the daughter of Joseph Smith. Josephine testified: “She (Sylvia) 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.” (Affidavit to Church Historian Andrew Jenson, 24 Feb. 1915)

            b. Mary Elizabeth Rollins Lightner, in her testimony given at a BYU devotional, stated that she knew of children born to Smith’s plural wives: “I know he [Joseph Smith] had six wives and I have known some of them from childhood up. I know he had three children. They told me. I think two are living today but they are not known as his children as they go by other names.”

            c. Prescindia D. Huntington, who was Normal Buell’s wife and simultaneously a “plural wife” to Joseph Smith, said that she did not know whether her husband Norman “or the Prophet was the father of her son, Oliver.” (Mary Ettie V. Smith, Fifteen Years Among the Mormons, page 34.)

            d. Meliassa Lott (Smith Willes) testified that she had been Joseph’s wife ‘in very deed.’ (Affidavit of Melissa Willes, 3 Aug. 1893, Temple Lot case, 98, 105; Foster, Religion and Sexuality, p. 156.)

            e. Louisa Beaman: In a court affidavit, faithful Mormon Joseph Noble wrote that Joseph told him he had spent the night with Louisa Beaman. (Temple Lot Case, p. 427)

            f. Emily D. Partridge (Smith Young) said she “roomed” with Joseph the night following her marriage to him and said that she had “carnal intercourse” with him. (Temple Lot case, (complete transcript), pp. 364, 367, 384; see Foster, ‘Religion and Sexuality,’ p. 15.)

            g. William Clayton, Joseph Smith’s personal secretary, recorded that on May 22, 1843, Emma found Joseph and Eliza Partridge secluded in an upstairs bedroom at the Smith home. According to the account, Emma was devastated. (William Clayton’s journal entry May 23, 1843; see Smith, pp. 105-106) Clayton also recorded one of Joseph’s visits to Almera Johnson on May 16, 1843: “Prest. Joseph and I went to B[enjamin] F. Johnson’s to sleep.” Johnson himself later noted that on this visit Joseph stayed with Almera “as man and wife” and “occupied the same room and bed with my sister, that the previous month he had occupied with the daughter of the late Bishop Partridge as his wife.” Almera Johnson also confirmed her secret marriage to Joseph Smith: “I lived with the prophet Joseph as his wife and he visited me at the home of my brother Benjamin F.” (Zimmerman, I Knew the Prophets, p. 44; see also The Origin of Plural Marriage, Joseph F. Smith, Jr., Deseret News Press, pp. 70-71.)

          • Brian Hales  June 17, 2014

            Hi Eric,

            I appreciate the information you have provided, but you obviously haven’t consulted the information on this website. Please consult the biographies of the wives and the FAQ “Sexuality” section where I include all the information you have mentioned and contextualize it. I’m hopeful that this website and my books will assist researchers like yourself. You don’t have to agree with me, but let’s hope we all get the facts right. For example, if you are going to quote Helen as saying “I would never have been sealed to Joseph had I known it was anything more than ceremony. I was young, and they deceived me, by saying the salvation of our whole family depended on it” please inform your audience who said it and defend it as reliable. There is a lot of good information here and everything is referenced. Thanks! Brian

        • Peter  June 20, 2014

          Bingo. The “for eternity” argument doesn’t make sense for women this young. Even if that is true, it raises some serious questions about the divine origins of the practice of polygamy, as this mindset plainly just isn’t logical. Even if a silly parent is trying to force their daughter into being sealed to the prophet, what kind of a prophet would allow such a thing to happen against the will of the young girl?

      • Josh  June 17, 2014

        You cannot indict Beam’s conclusions without dissecting what he got wrong. It’s an apologist go-to, to wave a wand and say I don’t like the sources. What sources are you pertaining too? What exactly was misquoted or stated in the chapter? I thought that chapter was especially well documented, and found it to be conservative, rather than extreme.

      • Roger D.  June 17, 2014

        The primary reason for Joseph Smith’s polygamy is irrelevant to my point. The fact that these were marriages constitutes prima facie evidence for sexual involvement. Your idiosyncratic methods for interpreting evidence, goal based reasoning, and redefinition of “marriage” when convenient to support your thesis notwithstanding.

        Each and every marriage, absent direct evidence to the contrary, should be treated as a sexual relationship.

        • Brian Hales  June 19, 2014

          Hi, I see two weaknesses with your argument. First, in Joseph Smith’s theology, “eternal marriage” was vastly more important than marriage on earth and it did not require sexuality on earth. See the case of Ruth Vose Sayers and read D&C 132:16-17, 63. You may be comfortable ignoring Josephs Smith’s teachings, but the Nauvoo polygamists were not. They lived by them and let his revelations and instructions govern their lives. The second problem is that waiting until the younger wives were older before sex was a common practice in Utah. I believe it started in Nauvoo with Joseph, but there is no way to prove it. Hence, for a person to assume that sexual relations occurred in a priesthood sealing is not justified because it may have been for “eternity only” or they may have waited due to the young age of the bride. Thanks, Brian

      • Jim  June 17, 2014

        Jacob 2:
        27 Wherefore, my brethren, hear me, and hearken to the word of the Lord: For there shall not any man among you have save it be one wife; and concubines he shall have none;
        28 For I, the Lord God, delight in the chastity of women. And whoredoms are an abomination before me; thus saith the Lord of Hosts.
        29 Wherefore, this people shall keep my commandments, saith the Lord of Hosts, or cursed be the land for their sakes.
        30 For if I will, saith the Lord of Hosts, raise up seed unto me, I will command my people; otherwise they shall hearken unto these things.

        So, according to the Book of Mormon, polygamy is okay if the Lord wants to raise up seed. Otherwise, they should only have one wife. If Joseph was entering into polygamous relationships with intentions other than raising up seed, it would seem that his actions would not be consistent with the Book of Mormon. Perhaps I’m reading the scriptures too plainly and taking them at their word.

        • Brian Hales  June 17, 2014

          Joseph Smith gave three additional reasons besides “multiply and replenish” (D&C 132:63) in section 132 for the need to practice plural marriage. The most important was for every person to be sealed or they are not candidates for exaltation (see vv. 16-17). Plural marriage allows every woman to be sealed and doesn’t require sexuality. To not be sealed brings eternal singleness, but there is no penalty mentioned for men and women who did not “multiply or replenish” the earth. Hence, being eternally sealed is the most important. I hope that helps. Brian

        • Terri  June 17, 2014

          No, actually. Polygamy is okay if God commands it.

      • Seth R.  June 17, 2014

        My great grandmother told us a story about how she contracted pneumonia as a child in the late 1800s (serious business back then). She begged her mom not to marry her to the bishop if she died because he was too fat. It was common practice back then for young girls in the ward who died to be sealed to whoever was bishop at the time.

        Just goes to show that these sealings happened commonly in contexts that were obviously nothing whatsoever to do with sex.

        • Peter  June 20, 2014

          I find this to be truly bizarre. For me the issue isn’t whether JS was a pedophile or an adulterer, and I find this rhetoric to be extremely unfair. I have no doubt that JS and the other saints were very genuine in their practice of polygamy. To me the relevant question is whether the practice was inspired or not. And to that question I can find no supporting evidence. The whole thing seems to have been a boondoggle, an albatross around the neck of the church to this day. Why were young women being sealed arbitrarily to some random Bishop? Why isn’t this done today? Truly bizarre that the Saints would think they literally control the powers of heaven. Wouldn’t this mean God is limited in his power? God can’t sort it out, so we have to. Here, let’s seal dead people to random people they never knew or met, and we expect what, that this relationship will actually be binding in the eternities? Absurdly stupid. Not only illogical, but arrogant.

        • AT  June 28, 2014

          Seth R., please cite your source for the claim about the practice of sealings to bishops besides a perhaps-meant-to-be-humorous family legend. I am a family and community historian specializing in Utah and Mormon communities and have never seen a sealing like this. In every case I’ve seen, if young women belonging to those communities were sealed by proxy due to untimely deaths, it was to likewise deceased and unmarried young men.

          However, another common pattern I’ve seen that supports your final conclusion is that older couples, often including those who resisted temporal plural marriage, would do genealogy and temple work and have every unmarried deceased woman in their entire extended family, generations back sometimes, sealed into the family by sealing them to the living husband.

          This was before President Wilford Woodruff’s 1890s revelation on ordering temple work by parent-child lineages, so this was their method of providing their unmarried female relatives access to the eternal family structure. I can not conclude — cannot even imagine — that these couples thought the husband in the case would have some large eternal harem consisting of their many deceased aunts and cousins. Rather, they were providing blessings of family and priesthood.

    • Terri  June 17, 2014

      Well, considering Emma had 9 children with Joseph, it is evident that he was fertile.
      How many of his other wives had children by him?
      So, there is strong evidence that their marriages were never consummated.

  2. David Conley Nelson  June 17, 2014

    Brian: Why do you choose the pejorative and rather mean and spiteful term, “anti-Mormon” to describe John Dehlin’s approach? As I see it, when one expresses differences with the LDS Church leadership, that is not necessarily anti-Mormon. Critiquing the job performance of a Church leader is not necessarily “evil speaking of the Lord’s anointed.” At least, it shouldn’t be.

    There are many Catholic conservatives who are quite publicly dismayed with the progressive message of the current Pope. But I’d never label them as anti-Catholic. Why, in an LDS context, is disagreement with the leadership perceived to be a negative expression toward the larger church? It seems to me that you could critique John’s approach much more effectively without the label. John’s stake president recently expressed a desire for deescalation. Could you, for your own part, deescalate the rhetoric a bit by not conflating public critique of the leadership with anti-Mormonism?

    • Brian Hales  June 17, 2014

      You bring up a good point. It is difficult to classify statements that are false and inherently destroy faith without choosing a word that is pejorative. Do you have any suggestions?

      I feel bad for John Dehlin. I thought we were friends, but his willingness to ignore my research on Joseph Smith and instead blindly (apparently) repeat claims by Grant Palmer and Alex Beam is troubling to me (and somewhat surprising). Many of John’s statements in the interview (which he hasn’t posted yet I don’t think), I addressed in my podcast in 2013. I presented evidence questioning their validity, if not to disprove them, but John ignored it all. The morning prior to the interview I sent John a list of 18 problems with Beam’s claims in his chapter on polygamy. John ignored all of them too,

      My conclusion is the John Dehlin was not interested in questioning Beam’s claims. Searching for the truth regarding Joseph’s actions seemed secondary to having a non-confrontational gathering to validate Alex’s published views, whatever they were. If his book contained falsehoods, then the objective was to validate, not expose, them. Immediately after the interview my wife and I wished we would not have participated.

      “Anti-Mormon” is pejorative, and I’m not happy to use it here. However, if a statement would reliably cause doubt and is of dubious accuracy, I wonder perhaps what you would label it? I believe it accurately describes the statements John made, but maybe “faith-destroying,” “antagonistic,” “dissenting,” or something similar would have been more socially acceptable? Regardless, my wife and I take no joy in reporting what happened. Should I write, “Don’t shoot the messenger?” :-)


    • Thaddeus  July 16, 2014

      David, who qualifies for the term “anti-Mormon?”

      Are you suggesting that because it has a rude connotation, it shouldn’t be used to describe anyone?
      Or just that it should not be used to describe persons who have membership in the Church regardless of their level of orthodoxy?
      If one is an agitator within the Church, what is the proper term? “Freedom-fighter?” “Revolutionary?” “Mutineer?”

  3. Janie Oyakawa  June 17, 2014

    Interesting that it was your podcast and the one concerning Quinn that made my husband walk away. Your insistence on defending Joseph is almost as unsavory as him.

    • Brian Hales  June 17, 2014

      This is very sad to me, to think my response to Grant Palmer has contributed someone to leave the Church. I didn’t see myself as“defending Joseph,” as much as I saw myself correcting the numerous falsehoods Palmer had perpetuated. If correcting those lies with historical documentation has caused someone to lose faith, then I wonder what was I to do to help your husband retain his faith? Perpetuate more lies? Everyone wins when we consult the documents ourselves and not take my word for it or Quinn’s. We may not agree, but we will be able to prayerfully study and make our own conclusions for which we will be judged. Too many Church members are being deceived by people like Grant Palmer because they don’t spend the time needed to understand the doctrines and history associated with plural marriage.

      • Will Roberts  June 17, 2014

        Do you really honestly think that Grant Palmer is deceiving people? Do you not honestly think that perhaps, given the right perspective and the same critical lens through which you view Palmer, that you are also deceiving people?

        • Brian Hales  June 17, 2014

          Hi again,

          Of course I think Grant Palmer’s scholarship was irresponsible. He was making up the facts as he spoke. His presentation is worthy of the highest criticisms. Listen to my response and you will see. Or better yet, do the research and defend the things he said. Either way, I’m happy to hear your report.

    • Seth Payne  June 17, 2014


      So a well-reasoned and sympathetic view of Joseph Smith drove your husband away? Do we not have room for a multiplicity of viewpoints? Is it not possible to take an objective view of the matter?

      I’m not suggesting one has to agree with Brian — I certainly don’t in all areas as I personally think Joseph’s polygamy was more sexual than Brian does — but I don’t fault Brian simply because we disagree. Brian does not twist evidence. He’s not hiding any data. He simply has a different interpretation.


    • Darren  June 18, 2014


      You can always reconnect with the Holy Spirit and come back into the LDS fold knowing that Joseph smith was a true prophet of God and have no doubt that YHWH claims him as His.

      God speed.

  4. Eric P.  June 17, 2014

    I am sincerely interested in your explanations of why polyandry and the Book of Abraham should not be “bothersome”.

    Also, my guess is that the BYU student you spoke with probably does have faith in the “tenants” (as you say) of the LDS religion, but less so in its “tenets” – much like John Dehlin, who is always effusive in his admiration and concern for Mormons as people.

    • Brian Hales  June 17, 2014

      Hi and thanks for the post,

      Polyandry is probably the most common question I get asked regarding Joseph Smith and plural marriage. The short answer is he didn’t practice sexual polyandry, which would have been adultery. Most of the “polyandrous” sealings were simply “eternity only” sealings. Joseph taught a woman would have her choice and many chose Joseph over their legal husbands. Three cases were “time and eternity” sealings, but two of the women were separated from their husbands and the third is too poorly documented to say what was going on but the husband was a staunch supporter of the Prophet. I think it is strange, but it is not immoral or hypocritical.

      I would encourage you to read the information here on the website. The Fawn Brodie-George D. Smith version of polyandry is just not documentable and contradicts important available evidences.

      The Book of Abraham fervor is curious. Joseph “translated” the Book of Moses by staring at a page in the King James Bible. It is arguably as complex as the Book of Abraham, but no one is bothered by it. Then Joseph “translates” the papyri, over half of which we do not presently possess, and produces the Book of Abraham and because the text surrounding the facsimile #1 is the Book of Breathings, suddenly Joseph is a fraud and false prophet. We don’t know how the papyri influenced the Book of Abraham any more than we understand how Genesis influenced the creation of the Book of Moses.

      There are so many unknowns with Book of Abraham so critics fill in the blanks and ultimately end up criticizing their own conjectures, rather than the documentary evidence which doesn’t exist. A question for critics is to explain how Joseph knew Terah, Abraham’s father, was an idolater? It is an interesting detail if he was fabricating the whole.

      Thanks for pointing out the spelling error—I just corrected it.

      Brian Hales

      • Will Roberts  June 17, 2014

        1. If I separate from my wife but do not divorce her, and I have sexual relations with another woman, you’re saying that is *NOT* adultery. Got it. And since when is sexuality the only thing that defines marital fidelity? What woman would be ok with a man dynastically marrying another woman in secret? What god would be ok with that? Seriously?

        2. If definitive evidence comes forth at some point showing that Joseph Smith indeed fathered a child with one of his polyandrous wives, will that affect your testimony? I guess I just don’t understand what it would take for you to take a step back and say, “Hmm, maybe this guy isn’t all he claimed to be.”

        3. Lots of people have problems with the Book of Moses. The Book of Abraham just has much more obvious problems, and you’re inventing “unknowns” as a defense for the indefensible. It’s time to apply Occam’s Razor and better understand the Freudian defense mechanisms you are using to protect your lifelong identity and acknowledge that these are real actual problems likely with uncomfortable answers.

        • Brian Hales  June 17, 2014

          Hi Will,

          You pose some good questions. First, Joseph taught that a sealing in the new and everlasting covenant would cause a previous marriage covenant to be “done away” (D&C 22:1, 132:4). Hence, a woman like Sylvia Sessions who has a legal marriage to Windsor Lyon and is thereafter separated from him and sealed to Joseph Smith, would only have one “lawful” husband according to Joseph Smith’s teachings. A legal divorce would not be needed and if she returned to Windsor, it would have been adultery in the eyes of the Church.

          Your second question is a hypothetical and I’ve never had much use for them. Feel free to find a child born to a polyandrous wife but you would be wise to make it one of the eleven marriages I have labeled as “eternity only.” I guess I could pose a question for you. What if you learned Joseph was a prophet of the living God?

          I appreciate your appeal to Occam’s Razor, which totally applies here. However, it requires us to embrace reality and not the comic book version of Nauvoo polygamy portrayed by Fawn Brodie and so many other authors. If you wish to apply it, then you will need to understand plural marriage as the Nauvoo polygamists understood it and practiced it. Gather those variables and then apply the theory. Generally they hated it, but they had faith in Joseph’s God and in Joseph and they practiced according to the law of chastity he introduced with marriage ceremonies and genuine marriage responsibilities afterwards. If we ignore those realities, we end up with historical fictions and Occam’s Razor no longer applies. I have posted many of their accounts on the website here and in my book.

          The problem with quoting Freud is that he was a godless and unhappy man whose teachings could never translate to understanding the spiritual things Joseph Smith revealed, at least in my view. It seems Dan Vogel tried to psychoanalyzed me (see our emails on this website), but no matter. Everyone needs to justify the course they have chosen. My point is that we must get back to the evidences rather than our assumptions about the evidences. Then we will still probably disagree, but we will be as close to the documentary truth as we can be. At that point, our individuals faiths will take over—which is as it should be.



          • Will Roberts  June 18, 2014

            If it could be shown beyond a reasonable doubt that Joseph Smith was a prophet, then I would follow him. But as that is merely a hypothetical as well, I have no use for such an idea. As you are a man who appreciates original sources, I’m sure you are familiar with the work of H. Michael Marquardt, who along with the Reverend Wesley Walters, has produced scores of original documents that demonstrate that Joseph Smith’s first vision story is full of inconsistencies and contradictions from other primary sources. JS’s polygamy doesn’t matter if that vision didn’t happen. And the evidence against that vision happening the way JS says it did is overwhelming. For an excellent summary of these sources, see

            I certainly hope you aren’t rejecting Freud’s work based on him being “godless and unhappy”. That would be silly. Brian, do you ever ask yourself why almost every single Mormon apologist is white, male, heterosexual, born in the church (or converted in or prior to formative years), has strong social and familial pressures that would make leaving the church difficult, is able to feel what people call “the spirit” (many people who sincerely try never do), has made big sacrifices for the church, has spent many years in the church (decades at a minimum, usually over 30), above average intelligence, often with unorthodox views, among other commonalities? You guys almost uniformly fit into this little box. As a person has fewer of these commonalities, she is much less likely to remain in the church her entire life. Give me a black, homosexual female who converted to the church 3 years ago. Show her unbiased church history often referenced by “anti-Mormons” (as you call him) like John Dehlin and see how long her testimony lasts. Either god favors the apologists, or there is something to that crazy science that the angry godless Freud came up with.

            I don’t expect you to do anything about it even if you were to look into defense mechanisms and how they apply to you as confirmation bias, backfire effect, and sunk cost fallacy are powerful forces that would keep you where you are. This is precisely what psychology predicts that someone like you will do, especially as the formative years become more distant. For a good read on how that works, read “Mistakes Were Made (But Not by Me)”.

          • Brian Hales  June 18, 2014

            Hi Will,

            Thanks for the thoughtful post.

            I’m a little surprised to see you appeal to the First Vision allegations. As you probably know, the Joseph Smith’s Papers project has published all of the original manuscripts at There you and I can see the originals documents and make our own decisions. We don’t need to get filtered and biased reporting from Wesley or my good friend Michael (he helped with several part of my books). I have read the accounts and am nonplussed by the critics’ claims. But this is where I’m very comfortable agreeing to disagree. At least everyone is looking at the originals and not believing secondary sources.

            You are right concerning Freud. He had some revolutionary ideas. I’m a big fan of neoFreudian psychiatrist Karen Horney (German). She threw out the sexual stuff but greatly elaborated on his work with the unconscious. Highly recommended but thick reading.

            I think you bring up a good point regarding the lack of diversity in the Church, but it is predicted in part because of our belief that we lived and progressed before we were born earth as premortal spirits (see Abr. 3:22-28). Church President Harold B. Lee taught in General Conference, 1973: “It would seem very clear, then, that those born to the lineage of Jacob, who was later to be called Israel, and his posterity, who were known as the children of Israel, were born into the most illustrious lineage of any of those who came upon the earth as mortal beings.” God told Joseph Smith: “For ye are lawful heirs, according to the flesh, and have been hid from the world with Christ in God” (D&C 86:9; italics added). Our belief is that there are lineages for those who developed believing blood, which will diminish diversity to some degree. This may sound elitist, but it isn’t because anyone can join us through baptism. Bruce R. McConkie (who I may be criticized for quoting :-)) taught that some of the valiant premortal spirits accepted missions to be born among other lineages throughout the world to serve as instruments to help establish the gospel in those lands in these latter days.

            You say that “defense mechanisms… backfire,” so is our only option to surrender? Joseph taught “we should waste and wear out our lives in bringing to light all the hidden things of darkness” (D&C 123:13; see also 1 Corinthians 4:5). This is important because “there are many yet on the earth among all sects, parties, and denominations, who are blinded by the subtle craftiness of men, whereby they lie in wait to deceive, and who are only kept from the truth because they know not where to find it” (v. 12; see also Ephesians 4:14).

            Your comment about people not being able to feel the Holy Spirit is something I have also noticed. Whether it is a tendency brought here from the premortal world or God’s way of working with some of His children or something else, I do not know. I only know that the Holy Spirit is very real to me and the experiences I’ve had are one of the “Reasons for my faith.” But they are not the only ones. For most, I think Moroni’s promise in the Book of Mormon is real, to “ask with a sincere heart” and then the Holy Ghost will manifest its truthfulness.

            Thanks again,


          • Will Roberts  June 18, 2014

            Hello Brian,

            I appreciate your response.

            It seems that appealing to the First Vision is a good starting point when determining the truthfulness of the COJCOLDS, since allegedly that’s where JS’s prophetic call officially began. Debating whether or not Joseph Smith had sex with any particular woman becomes irrelevant if it can be shown beyond a reasonable doubt that his first vision was an invented story.

            You probably didn’t look at and you probably don’t have time to wade through the dozens of original (and secondary) sources referenced there, including all of the First Vision accounts referenced in the Joseph Smith Papers URL you mentioned. You are a busy man and I don’t blame you for that. Additionally, it’s not your “home turf,” so you may not be prepared to defend it. But as you know, President Hinckley said: “…upon that unique and wonderful experience stands the validity of this church.” The validity of the church and the alleged prophetic calling of JS does not necessarily rest upon his practice of polygamy. This is why I do not choose to study polygamy in great depth. I see it only as a “symptom” of who JS really was.

            The apologetic responses to Walters/Marquardt are speculative and problematic in many areas. For example, JS said that his vision happened early in the spring of 1820. The evidence suggests that there was no religious excitement at that time comparable to 1816/17 and 1824/25, so apologists have to make the claim that “camp meetings were common and probably not mentioned that much”, and they have to point to meetings of this sort that happened scores of miles away from Palmyra at a minimum, sometimes as many as 209 miles away (see's_First_Vision/Religious_revivals_in_1820). This is a big stretch to assume that JS and his family would be traveling so far when there were plenty of religious meetings they could attend in their own town. Further, JS specifically stated that this excitement occurred “in the place where we lived”. 209 miles away could hardly be considered the place where they lived, especially when travel was done by horse and foot. JS also stated: “great multitudes united themselves to the different religious parties”. There is no evidence that this happened in 1820 anywhere near where the Smiths lived. This religious excitement matches perfectly to the revival of 1824/25. Literally every detail, such as when some of the Smiths joined the Presbyterian Church, it being after the death of Alvin Smith, it being the second year after the Smiths moved onto their Manchester farm, and the preachers Benjamin Stockton and George Lane mentioned by Oliver Cowdery and William Smith were actively preaching during this revival (George Lane specifically being the same preacher that gave a sermon that allegedly caused JS to ask God which church he should join). It leads one to wonder, how did William Smith, Oliver Cowdery, and Lucy Mack Smith all write such relatively consistent accounts, but JS’s 1838 account is all mixed up in its details by comparison? This, coupled with the apparent inconsistent stories JS told of the First Vision leads me to the conclusion that it, at the very least, did not happen the way JS said it did, and more likely didn’t happen at all.

            Your arguments that certain lineages are more likely to believe and that valiance in the pre-existence determine how likely one is to become a Mormon seem offensive to those who are not privileged. You can defend that position if you wish but I don’t think the un-privileged will find it very appealing. You need to be careful making such claims, especially when the church is now saying things like, “Today, the Church disavows the theories advanced in the past that black skin is a sign of divine disfavor or curse, or that it reflects actions in a premortal life…”. I realize this is a specific reference to skin color but it seems that the church has been trying to distance itself from McConkie and his FIL who made claims of valiance in the pre-existence affecting who we are on earth.

            Being aware of defense mechanisms and how you may or may not be using them doesn’t mean you need to surrender one way or another. Being aware makes you more likely to think objectively and not get trapped by your own brain. As a perfect example, you quote D&C 132:12. This verse could easily be turned on you to suggest that you might actually be the person who has been “blinded by the subtle craftiness of men”. This is why it’s so important to know how your brain works. I argue that Boyd K. Packer was wrong when he said, “The study of the doctrines of the gospel will improve behavior quicker than a study of behavior will improve behavior.” This was the complete opposite of my experience. A study of the gospel only got me so far, but a study of behavior showed me where I was erring as a Mormon, and I feel I am a much better person today for being aware of it.


          • Brian Hales  June 19, 2014

            Hi and thanks for the post,

            I visited the website you recommended and appreciate the research, but I’m puzzling over the enthusiasm expressed by critics regarding the First Vision, especially since has published all of the known accounts without any apologetic discussion and apparently not sensing the need for any. I’ve read them and am nonplussed by critics who worry about the different details that were emphasized in each account.

            In fact, I might say that with all of the possible allegations that might be leveled at Joseph Smith, I take comfort that the evidence someone presents to show Joseph was a fraud is to dispute a very small detail in one of several account he gave concerning the First Vision. I would be much more worried if you (or anyone) could come up with a good alternate explanation for the creation of the Book of Mormon. Even with all the hard work of my friends Dan Vogel and Brent Metcalfe have done, I’ve yet to encounter another plausible explanation for the creation of the 500+ page volume—at least in my view. I have read it at least 50 times and believe it contains remarkably sublime teachings and wisdom. Similarly, if you had even one woman claiming Joseph Smith seduced her, I’d be worried, but there is nothing even remotely resembling that.

            However, I did a little research and here is what I found. The Palmyra Register for July 5, 1820 states: “’Plain Truth’ is received. By this communication, as well as by the remarks of some of our neighbors who belong to the Society of Methodists, we perceive that our remarks accompanying the notice of the unhappy death of James Couser, contained in our last, have not been correctly understood.” You’ve undoubtedly read this, but it shows that “neighbors” belonged to the “Society of Methodists” in the Palmyra area in 1820. It is a small jump for me to believe they might have exhibited an “unusual excitement” etc.

            My knee-jerk reaction to this kind of criticism, which seems a little nitpicky (sorry), is to ask if the critic is willing to allow us to use his/her magnifying glass on their own beliefs. You see, I’m convinced that no personal ideology contains no question marks. That is, everyone needs some faith, even the atheists need faith (and that is another discussion but my bachelors in biology taught me even the scientist don’t have all the answers).

            I appreciate the warning and I understand the “lineages” discussion can be construed as elitist but since anyone can join at anytime through compliance, I argue it isn’t elitist at all. A favored lineage is a plain teaching of the Bible. The progeny of Abraham and Israel were privileged in the eyes of the God of the Bible, which is difficult for Christian denominationalists to explain because they generally eschew teachings of the preexistence. Even Christ acknowledged this status when he sent for his Twelve Apostles “and commanded them, saying, Go not into the way of the Gentiles, and into any city of the Samaritans enter ye not” (Matthew 10:5). His message was first to the House of Israel because they were somehow different from the “gentiles” and the “Samaritans.”

            My scriptures and your references to knowing how the brain works suggest to me that the primary question is whether the Spirit is real. I think Korihor’s characterization that spiritual experiences were the result of a “frenzied mind” is creative. However, I think psychologists would use other labels today like “group psychosis,” “self-deception,” or insanity, mania, etc. If I remember correctly Dan Vogel wrote to me saying that my feelings of the Spirit were a phenomenon of the parietal lobe of my cerebral cortex. I had to wonder how someone could reliably research such a thing? Dan had his explanation for whatever he apparently cannot feel. Regardless, it quickly becomes an impasse because it is non-transferable. As I said before, it is very real to me.

            Accompanying my spiritual convictions are my studies of Joseph Smith and Mormon history that do not present any unambiguous concerns or reasons to disbelieve.

            Thanks again for your cordiality.

            God Bless,


          • Will Roberts  June 22, 2014


            The discrepancies in the accounts aren’t what I’m referring to as the problem. I know that’s the common argument you hear but frankly I consider it weaker than what I’m suggesting.

            I’m a little confused by your Book of Mormon argument. Why does the origin of the book matter? It’s chock full of doctrinal inconsistencies and embarrassing anachronisms. The anachronisms were so obvious that the writers of Mormonism Unvailed were aware of many of them. If I presented you a book that I claimed was of ancient origin that gave what I considered irrefutable testimony of the existence of fairies, would you take it seriously? What if I told you that no one had yet given a good explanation for its origin other than the story the book and its author told? Would you take it seriously then? Even if it was 4,000 pages long and taught uplifting inspiring things? Of course you wouldn’t. There is no solid evidence for the existence of fairies, so why would anyone take a book about that seriously, whether they can explain its origin or not?

            There are a few problems with your explanation of religious excitement in 1820. First, show me where the great multitudes joining the various denominations are. See for original sources on why 1824-25 is a better fit. Also, you need to explain why Lucy Mack Smith, William Smith, and Oliver Cowdery all seem to think it was no earlier than 1823. Lucy mentions it after Alvin’s death in her memoirs, which occurred in November of 1823. And you also need both Rev. Benjamin Stockton and Rev. George Lane to be present in the Palmyra area as they are both specifically mentioned by William Smith. Cowdery also mentions Rev. Lane. You’ll find original documents placing them directly in Palmyra at that same link above. Interestingly enough, William recalls the exact sermon that allegedly caused JS to take action, and guess which scripture was the subject of that sermon: none other than James 1:5.

            Given this information, don’t you think it at least could be said that the 1838 canonized account has some problems? Fawn Brodie may have made some big mistakes on polygamy, but she nailed the First Vision problems. Her theory stands up perfectly in light of all these discoveries by Walters/Marquardt.

            I’d be perfectly happy to have my own ideology under a microscope. I do it all the time to myself. And I’m perfectly willing to admit that any and all of my beliefs or assumptions about in the world could be wrong. I have not found that many faithful LDS are willing to do the same. I also find the argument that atheists need faith to be an erroneous one but that is a different discussion.

            I don’t know if spiritual convictions could be reliably researched either, but it sounds like Dan Vogel has offered a plausible explanation for at least some of them. What I’ve learned about spiritual experiences is that they are far from unique to Mormonism and do not necessarily imply that the LDS church is true. I leave that open as a possibility but I don’t try and force all the rivers to go to the same destination. This YouTube video does an excellent job of showing all the different directions that spiritual confirmations have sent people, including all the various LDS sects that use the same books mainstream LDS do: Again, if you haven’t the time to watch it, I understand.

            Take care,


          • Brian Hales  June 23, 2014

            Hi Will,

            Thanks for the follow-up comment.

            I think the Book of Mormon is important because saying Joseph Smith concocted it out of his own abilities is implausible to me and no other believable account for it origin has been advanced by the critics. We obviously esteem the book differently, but I find it very remarkable and its teachings to transcend what a man or woman could write. But that is just my unprovable opinion.

            You wrote the Book of Mormon is “chock full of doctrinal inconsistencies and embarrassing anachronisms.” I’ve read it fifty times and haven’t found the “doctrinal inconsistencies” you reference.

            However, mentioning “anachronisms” is always a puzzlement for me, despite the popularity of the argument by the critics. To prove an “anachronism,” we must show in a modern writing that something was attributed to a group of people who lived in the past that we are sure they didn’t have among them. It is problematic because some things cannot be proven to have not existed in the past. That is, we can’t prove a negative. All we can do is assume that something didn’t exist and then assert that a modern writing is anachronistic. For example, we haven’t yet found evidences of elephants, but we can’t prove they didn’t exist on this continent in the past. Neither have archeological digs covered every square inch of North and South America to discern which animals may have lived here thousands of years ago. FAIRMORMON has some very plausible explanations for this.

            This process of making assumptions and then criticizing Joseph Smith based upon those assumptions happens over and over with other things like the Book of Abraham. Joseph Smith “translated” the King James Version of Genesis and produced the Book of Moses. Then, he “translates” some papyri and produces the Book of Abraham and people cry “fraud” because the papyri we now have in our possession, which is less than half of what he had, has the Book of Breathings written around facsimile #1. If we assume that Joseph used the word “translate” as modern translators use it and also assume that he “translated” the Book of Breathings and came up with the Book of Abraham, then we might say he is a fraud. But in doing so, we are judging our own assumptions, not historical evidences regarding the source of the Book of Abraham. We just don’t know the relationship between the papyri that now in our possession and Book of Abraham.

            Sorry to change the subject but critics are sometimes very anxious to make assumptions and then conclude Joseph was a fraud based upon those assumptions.
            The issue of the First Vision is not a big deal to me. By 1838, Joseph Smith had dictated the Book of Mormon, the Book of Moses, and all the revelations in the D&C up to section 118. He gave us hundreds of pages of revelations and now we are quibbling about his memory regarding details he recalled from an event 18 years earlier. There just isn’t enough available evidence to say his story has any errors. As I quoted, the Methodists were in Palmyra in 1820. It seems to me that this is another example of assuming there was no “excitement” etc. and then condemning Joseph based upon that assumption. If Joseph was a fraud, I might expect some documentation stronger than the First Vision criticism sometimes advanced.

            I am at the hospital and is blocked, but I will try to watch the youtube video. Do you mind if I quote the Book of Mormon here. I’m not saying this applies to you, but it does seem to apply to some critics: “O that cunning plan of the evil one! O the vainness, and the frailties, and the foolishness of men! When they are learned they think they are wise, and they hearken not unto the counsel of God, for they set it aside, supposing they know of themselves, wherefore, their wisdom is foolishness and it profiteth them not. And they shall perish. But to be learned is good if they hearken unto the counsels of God.” (2 Nephi 9:28-29.)



          • Will Roberts  June 25, 2014


            If you read the BoM with a believing bias, you will not see the doctrinal inconsistencies. You will have a way to explain them away that satisfies your mind, and I imagine that’s where you’ve always been. Several of them were edited out by Joseph Smith early on as his theology morphed over the years, specifically with respect to trinitarianism. Mormons use the defense, “It means one in purpose”, but a reading of Joseph’s early writings certainly doesn’t give that impression. (See: 5th Lecture on Faith)

            You’re right in that we can’t prove a negative, but why would we assume that the relevant archaeological evidence for elephants, cows, horses, wheat, etc. just haven’t been found yet? Because the BoM makes people feel good and teaches things that make some people into a better person? I just don’t understand the reasoning for waiting for science to catch up (other than it threatens your identity and world view). FAIR’s plausible explanations are absurd at best for the most part. They pull against Occam’s Razor and are frankly kind of embarrassing. The approach that is more likely to lead one into truth is to ask, what is more likely? That archaeology, linguistics, anthropology, genetic testing, etc., are missing something? Or that the Book of Mormon narrative is entirely fictional? When you approach it from the conclusion that the Book of Mormon is true and work backwards using ridiculous plausibilities to fill the holes and ease your mind, you’re building on a really sandy foundation. I am certain that you would feel the same way about my Book of Fairyology, even if it made you feel really good and made you a better person, despite its many anachronisms. Even if it had witnesses and a great story of how it was brought to the earth by the Fairy Queen to a young farm boy. Another way of asking this is would you believe the Book of Mormon was true if you enjoyed the same privileges you do now, but grew up in a place where you had never heard of Mormonism? I’m sure you’d approach the whole subject from a very different perspective and you’d be far less likely to believe it’s true, and especially if you were made aware of the things in it that are still seen as anachronistic by virtually 100% of all non-Mormon scientists. The missionaries would try to convince you that their epistemology is superior to anything else, and you, being scientifically-minded, would ask something like, “But does this method of determining truth (praying and asking God) also work for the Qur’an and other holy books when applied the exact same way?” When you get a chance, that YouTube video will provide a good answer to that question.

            I have a hard time understanding why the First Vision issues aren’t a big deal to you. Despite it being 18 years after the fact, the way JS remembered it is just completely, totally, demonstrably wrong. There is plenty of available evidence to say his story has errors – you are just choosing not to acknowledge it. This is confirmation bias and use of defense mechanisms, specifically denial ( and intellectualization ( The evolving story has key inconsistencies, it contradicts his contemporaries, and it contradicts the historical record that we have. Again, that religious excitement perfectly matches what the historical record reflects in 1824-25, including the very specific preachers mentioned by JS’s brother and Oliver Cowdery. It matches what the church membership counts indicate. (For sources, see: If it didn’t happen like he said, that’s a problem. The LDS church sends out tens of thousands of missionaries every year that are teaching an incorrect narrative to people. That’s a huge problem! If it happened more like the 1832 account like Richard Bushman and other well-known apologists contend, why aren’t missionaries teaching that narrative instead? The church has dug itself into a deep hole with this one and unfortunately it’s not the fault of anyone alive and there is no easy way out.

            I appreciate your BoM reference. I know the book well and what it teaches. You would be wise to consider that the same counsel you have provided could easily be applied to yourself, but I’m sure you’ve already considered it. I’m sure you’re also aware of what Jesus is quoted as saying about doctors and lawyers who considered themselves well-educated and were certain they were doing the right thing. Whether you’re right or I’m right, a little humility goes a long way for anyone.



          • Brian Hales  June 27, 2014

            Hi Will,

            I appreciate the back-and-forth, but again I sincerely disagree with your points.

            You have eloquently outlined how my inability to see the “inconsistencies” in the Book of Mormon is due to my personal biases. However, that argument flows both ways. Is it possible that the “inconsistencies” are a result of your biases instead? In any belief system, people must fill in the gaps with their own beliefs, their own assumptions, their own faith. No personal philosophy is free from this need. I argue the alleged “inconsistencies” you detect are more a result of your biases. I’m comfortable saying I have faith in different things from what you have faith in. However, I can’t sit back comfortably and see assumptions prompted as documented fact or to see some authors misrepresent the historical record. That’s where I try to find the time to respond.

            On that same principle, I think your appeal to Occam’s Razor doesn’t work well because for it to be accurate, you have more documentable facts. That is, we can’t build a reality based upon assumptions and then count the number of additional assumptions that are needed to prove or disprove a theory. There are too many unknowns regarding the geography and anthropology of the Book of Mormon. Anytime you try to apply Occam’s Razor, you will need to add a lot of assumptions prior to even starting the process and those assumptions will invariably determine the outcome. It happens over and over that people make assumptions and then condemn Joseph and the Mormons based upon them.

            I’m not surprised that you may label FAIRMORMONS explanations as “absurd at best.” I disagree. Some apologetics may be problematic, but FAIR’s research is generally very good and their conclusions based upon better data than the antagonists. Do you think the antagonists’ claims are more reliable? I’ve never liked labels but they can be very powerful. By labelling everything at FAIRMORMON as “absurd,” you absolve yourself of having to take anything there seriously. That’s why in my books on polygamy I include all the evidences including the things stated by unbelievers. People can label my conclusions as apologetic, but they can’t label the evidence apologetic.

            It is unfortunate you mention genetic studies. It is a red herring that not based upon science, but upon assumption. Have you ever investigated the expected haplotypes for the Jewish genealogical line? Surely one exists to prove someone is actually from the tribe of Judah. Or does it? And if it doesn’t exist, what does that say about expectations regarding haplotypes of the Lehites (Ephraim and Manasseh) being present or absent in today’s American Indians? We don’t know what Lehi’s haplotypes were so tracing them today is impossible. Yet I give high marks to Signature Books and other antagonistic voices who have successfully perpetuated this scientific illusion among the unsuspecting public.

            I’m also a little disappointed in your repeated appeals to alleged problems in the First Vision. You claim “the way JS remembered it is just completely, totally, demonstrably wrong,” which is as remarkable as it is unprovable. Anyone who has performed much historical research realizes that little details do not usually persist in the historical record. What is more problematic in my view, however, is the confidence you reflect that Joseph’s statements have been disproven. It doesn’t work that way. You can’t prove a negative. But also, it seems you have only consulted antagonistic sources. Maybe you should look at this article by Steven C. Harper: Here’s a lengthy quote from it:

            “A Palmyra newspaper and the diary of a Methodist minister confirm a weekend camp meeting in Palmyra in June 1820 at which “about twenty were baptized and forty united with the [Methodist] Church.”  Had Walters known about this evidence, given the way he consistently interpreted evidence in support of his conclusion, he may have objected that a June 1820 camp meeting would have been too late to have catalyzed Joseph’s early spring vision. And he might have been quite right, but not necessarily. It snowed heavily on May 28 that year, and given his realities in that environment, Joseph’s conception of “early spring” may have been quite different from our own. But Joseph’s descriptions are not dependent on external events in Palmyra or in 1820. The diaries of Methodist itinerant preacher Benajah Williams evidence that Methodists and others were hard at work in Joseph’s district all the while. They combed the countryside and convened camp meetings to help unchurched souls like Joseph get religion. The response was phenomenal, especially in western New York, the home of nearly one-fourth of the six thousand Presbyterian converts in 1820. Baptist churches expanded similarly. Methodism expanded most impressively as traveling preachers like Williams gathered anxious converts.”

            The claim that Joseph Smith’s theological teachings about God evolved between the Book of Mormon and the 1832 account of the First Vision or later references in the Lectures on Faith fail to take into account D&C 76:19-23. The revelation was given in February 16, 1832 and states unambiguously that Christ was on the right hand of the Father. It is plain they are two beings there.

            If I have not reflected humility in these exchanges, then please forgive me. I am grateful for your gracious approach, in contrast to so many other openly antagonistic voices that I have responded to in the past. But I don’t think that reflecting a lack of conviction regarding the things I believe is humility. I don’t think you are saying that. But I honestly feel like Alma sometimes in Alma 29:1. I wish all could believe and receive the blessings I have experienced.



    • Seth Payne  June 17, 2014


      I can’t speak for Brian but I will speak for myself. Like others, I too question some of the traditional interpretations of some of Moronism’s core doctrines. They do not, however, “bother” me.

      For me, I care more about the pragmatic implications of religion and its relationship to creating broad social capital. As such, I see much to be admired within Mormonism — regardless of whether the BoA or the BoM are historical or not.

      Others, I know, have a different view where the historicity of these texts is very important to them. I certainly dont’ fault them for this. My point being that we all approach these issues differently. And so while I am not bothered by some issues, others probably are.

      What “bothers” me is some of the institutional Church’s stance on authority, politics, etc… But I work through them as best I can.

      Having said that, I do think it is important that if we are to become bothered we really understand the *primary* source material. Even wonderful secondary sources — like Hales’ work of JS polygamy, should be a starting off point from which we dive into early journals, etc… By reading primary sources we avoid the problem of being unduly influenced by the viewpoint of the author of the secondary source.


  5. Josh  June 17, 2014

    “Since I took no notes?” There also seems to be no indication that you have listened to any other Mormon Stories Podcast. It sounds like your opinion is very poorly researched. Maybe Beam has done a little better when formulating his argument, then you did in formulating yours!

    • Brian Hales  June 17, 2014

      I appreciate the comment. I took no notes because John Dehlin had indicated that I might be able to do a separate podcast responding to Beam’s chapter on polygamy and I assumed John might let me have a copy of the entire interview so I could respond to it as well. John didn’t like my wife’s questions to Beam and said he was no longer interested in having a response. I feel bad but wonder about John’s commitment to documentary transparency. I’d love to see Alex Beam produce and defend historical documentation to support his polygamy claims.

      • Matt Hughes  June 20, 2014

        I can’t thank you enough Brian for sharing this information. Many people have been troubled by the events of the past several days and your insight adds an invaluable piece that has helped me and others see the bigger picture. Thank you!

    • Seth Payne  June 17, 2014

      Yeah that makes sense, Josh.

      A respected scholar and author of a 3 volume work on Joseph Smith’s polygamy — published by a respected press — doesn’t understand the practice as well as Beam. Have you read Brian’s books? Do you notice how much primary research they contain? I haven’t read Beam (yet) so I can’t comment on the quality of his work. However, if Brian Hales believes there are problems, I am likely to trust his viewpoint. Why? Because he is an expert in the field. I may not agree with Brian on all of his conclusions — as I’m know many people disagree with my work/conclusions on some issues. But Brian is solid scholar and has produced solid work contributing to the field.

      To suggest Brian’s argument falls behind Beam’s — seems a bit silly to me.

  6. JO  June 17, 2014

    I’ve been studying Brigham Young recently. Did he practice “dynastic” polygamy often?
    You seem to indicate/insinuate that Joseph was more interested in this (dynastic polygamy) than actually fathering children through polygamous marriages (the way the scriptures seem to indicate is the main reason for the practice)? The sheer volume of BY’s polygamous marriages, in addition to the # of children he fathered, and the # of wives that were pregnant (many at the same time) seems to indicate to me that procreation was a significant motivator in polygamous marriages – at least in BY’s mind. It seems that BY understood polygamy to be about sealing in large volumes and fathering lots of children to grow his posterity.
    If that was his main motivator (building his kingdom for the hereafter) – doesn’t it seem likely that he would have learned that from his mentor and leader, Joseph? If not, and he was instead supposed to practice polygamy through mostly dynastic polygamous marriages, did he then go against what Joseph may have taught him privately?
    I still need to read your books to fully understand your position. Common sense tells me that Joseph was motivated, for whatever reason (divinely inspired or otherwise), to take on additional wives. We know he had sex with some of these wives, correct?. We know Emma did not approve of this lifestyle (wavered at best), correct? We know Joseph, at times (for whatever reason), tried to hide and deny this practice from Emma and the public, correct? I haven’t even touched polyandry. In it’s best light it’s still pretty messy. When I give Joseph the very best benefit of the doubt (even when I remove all the sex out of it and assume there was zero sex with others besides Emma – which is not the case) it still appears that Emma did not approve, he tried to cover up the lifestyle from her and the public, and there was a lot of sneaking around going on.
    I promise you that Joseph would not have lasted more than 2 minutes in a bishop’s interview in front of my bishop from my days as a youth. Not so much from the sex, although he would have nailed him on that too, but from the lying and sneaking around.
    Last night, I listened to Alex Beam’s discussion with Russell Stevenson. Clearly, Mr. Beam comes at Joseph without the loyalty that we, as members who grew up with a fondness for Joseph, do. I think sometimes we don’t value a third party’s assessment about Joseph or other problematic issues in the church often enough. A third party observation is often far less emotional and can look at the facts for what they are. I’m not sure that John Dehlin added any more to Mr. Beam’s skeptisism of Joseph during his interview (perhaps when I actually see the interview I will change my mind).
    I mean no disrespect. I look forward to reading your books on this topic so that I can begin to feel better about all of this. It appears you are at peace with all of this and I’d like to find a way to get there.

  7. Sker  June 17, 2014

    I was there and,between the lines, felt like your wife called Alex a liar. I thought it was inappropriate.

  8. P. B.  June 17, 2014

    I was the “mother of five” who Brian describes in this article. There are a number of misrepresentations. My husband was quiet not because he was “not enthusiastic” to be there, but because in this setting he prefers to be the “silent type.” I did not “finally convince” my husband to listen to the podcasts. He started doing his own research. I am not “on my way out of the church” as I still have a calling, although it is true I am not a literal believer anymore. Furthermore, it was not from listening to John’s podcast that it all became “just too much.” When asked by Laura what issue was it that got me to not believe anymore (ie. polygamy) I explained it was not one issue but the overwhelming number of difficult issues that I have learned about from studying hours and hours over the past seven months. Brian incorrectly says in his essay that it was from only listening to John Dehlins Mormonstories Podcast that “was just too much” for me. On the contrary, it was researching literally hundreds of hours all of the issues from Brian Hale’s website, the FAIR website, Mormon Think, CES Letter, and about 15 books that led to my nonbelief. The podcasts were part of my journey but by no means responsible for it. The bottom line is, that Brian Hales is guilty of doing exactly what he claims “the Internet” and John Dehlin to be doing: “spreading misinformation.” Confirmation bias certainly at work.

  9. SDA  June 17, 2014

    “There is a need for solid prayerful research of reputable sources when dealing with deeper issues and meaty teachings.”

    Why the prayerful research? Why does there have to be ANY “supernatural” approaches to learning the historical truth of a matter? Why not just come take a sit at the objective table, remove your biases and beliefs, and simply judge and evaluate the reputable sources with reason and critical thinking?

    As an attorney, I don’t pray and ask god to tell me if my client is telling me the truth or not. In my personal life, I don’t pray and ask god if I should vote for candidate x. If I were sitting on a jury, I wouldn’t ask god to tell me how to decide the case – I would look at the facts, and evaluate them with reason and objectivity. Real and actual knowledge, information, and truths, such your understanding of anatomy, are not discovered by so called “prayerful research.”

    I ask you Mr. Hales, do you employ the same standard of reasoning and critique to the J Smith story that you do in your professional life? If you were to apply that same standard, would you reach the same conclusions?

    As for me and my house, yes, I have integrity, and employ the same standard of proof and critic to the J Smith story as I do in my professional and personal life.

    Integrity, isn’t about time?

    • Brian Hales  June 17, 2014

      Hi SDA,

      Thanks for the observations. You ask if I use deductive reasoning in judging the historical record as I do in operating room. Of course.

      As an attorney, you must realize that with virtually every historical reconstruction, contradictory evidence exists or the supportive evidence is not as reliable as you would like. Someone once said you can prove any position by quoting the Bible. By proof-texting the verses, multiple arguments can be supported. It is the same with almost any historical incident. If you have plain incontrovertible evidence showing Joseph Smith was a prophet or fraud, I would invite you share it.

      Could we take your magnifying glass and apply it to your own beliefs? Are you Christian? agnostic? Atheist? I argue that every personal philosophy requires faith. Even the atheist has faith that if you put a few basic elements in a sunlit pool and wait a few billion years, a trillion molecules will spontaneously line up and produce LIFE. That’s faith. The Big Bang Theory says that at one point everything in the universe was smaller than a pinhead. Really! That’s faith.

      It seems faith is needed generally, but also in determining what we are going to accept historically because the evidences are incomplete and often contradictory.


    • Darren  June 18, 2014

      “Integrity, isn’t about time?”

      Hey, a Mormon commercial, SDA style. How quaint.

      “As an attorney, I don’t pray and ask god to tell me if my client is telling me the truth or not. In my personal life, I don’t pray and ask god if I should vote for candidate x. If I were sitting on a jury, I wouldn’t ask god to tell me how to decide the case – I would look at the facts, and evaluate them with reason and objectivity. Real and actual knowledge, information, and truths, such your understanding of anatomy, are not discovered by so called “prayerful research.””

      If you refuse to ‘prayerfully research’ me and my legal circumstances you will NEVER represent me, (een if I hired you to do so).

      “Intelligence, patriotism, Christianity, and a firm reliance on Him, who has never yet forsaken this favored land, are still competent to adjust, in the best way, all our present difficulty.”

      Abraham Lincoln.

  10. CRL  June 17, 2014

    I’m glad that Brian has done extensive research on these topics, and I agree it is important to set the record straight. Unfortunately, when Brian writes something like this I’m convinced he misses the larger point about the current wave of disaffection. Sure each issue when considered individually and interpreted in the most favorable way towards the church can perhaps be dealt with. Unfortunately for most that leave, it is issue after issue that eventually turn into a mountain. It is the half-truths and obfuscation that the church has dealt in for years that is generally the proverbial last straw. Does everyone that ends up leaving have every fact straight? Have they all done the same level of research on each issue as Brian has done with polygamy? No, but saying that because they haven’t done this or because they have a few facts wrong here or there that they are being mislead is silly. The choice to leave the church is deeply personal and generally comes after considerable research and consideration. I think it is ill conceived to conclude that most people do not give it significant contemplation and research.

    I appreciate Brian’s research, but he seems to come across as critical of those that look at the same information and come to a different conclusion. To argue that the evidence inevitably leads to his conclusions is silly (as well as inevitable that it leads to the conclusions of the so-called “anti-mormons”).

    Brian focuses on JS’s behavior, but generally those that leave have problems with the entire concept and practice of polygamy. It’s funny how JS’s reputation must be managed and maintained (i.e. he didn’t consummate, he didn’t coerce, etc.), but what about all the prophets polygamous behavior following him? BY’s behavior towards his wives was certainly not what most would consider upstanding. What about one prophet (Wilford Woodruff) marrying off his just turned 18 year old daughter to another 45 year old prophet (Lorenzo Snow). Or a 57 year-old Lorenzo Snow marrying a 17 year old? These are just two examples out of many (and not even the worst).

    • Brian Hales  June 17, 2014

      I appreciate CRL’s thoughtful comments.

      You correctly acknowledge that I have many scholarly battles to fight as I try to address every negative assumption and half-truth that has been generated. For me, the saying, “Throw enough mud at a wall and some will eventually stick” applies. Today more than ever, we have many mudslingers.

      The only way past the mud requires faith and study. I too have traveled the path—I collect anti-Mormon literature and study it. But I disagree that everyone that looks at what transpired will conclude Joseph was a fraud. My research assistant Don Bradley was out of the Church when I hired him. For two years he accumulated every known document dealing with plural marriage and after doing so, he sought rebaptism. He knows as much about the early period of the Church as anyone, in addition to his knowledge of plural marriage. He believes—was just married in the temple last Friday. You refer to a “mountain” of problematic issues. Don and I haven’t found them, but we have identified mountains of half-truths and “spin” that attempt to cover granite truth.

      I don’t like polygamy. It expands a man’s sexual and emotional opportunities as a husband as it simultaneously diminishes a woman’s sexual and emotional opportunities as a wife. On earth it can only be seen as unfair and sexist. I won’t defend it as an earthly practice. However, the primary reason for plural marriage, Joseph explained in D&C 132: 16-17, 63, is based upon eternal marriage because it allows all worthy women to be sealed to a husband. No sex is required, which is why many of his sealings were “eternity only.” Regardless, how can anyone accept this if they don’t believe in Joseph’s revelations in the first place?

      Many members and non-members will usually impute one motivation as the conscious or unconscious driving force: Joseph Smith’s libido. Richard L. Bushman observed: “Polygamy is an interesting thing because it serves as a Rorschach test. People project onto Joseph Smith and polygamists their own sense about human nature.” Church President Joseph F. Smith acknowledged this reality writing in 1903: “It is difficult to convince the prejudiced mind that any but base intents and impure desires prompted the practice of plural marriage, but nevertheless it was entered into, God knows, with the highest religious and moral motives.”

      It is true that faith is required. I can’t prove Joseph was a reluctant polygamist even if the evidence supports it. The “Reasons for my Faith” are based in convictions born of the study of the historical documents, but also the Book of Mormon, in addition to the revelations in the D&C. I have other personal experiences that sustain me, but still I’ve found no “smoking gun” or other reason to disbelieve. Regardless, I cannot infuse my faith into others as I give packed blood cells to my anemic patients. I can only invite them to receive the light (D&C 93:31, see also 123: 13).


      • Roger D.  June 17, 2014

        Speaking of Don Bradley, I get the impression that he doesn’t share your views that polyandrous marriages were for some reason sexless

        • Brian Hales  June 17, 2014

          I’ve heard that rumor. Don and I discussed it and he’s never shared it with me and I think he agrees. It is unfortunate these rumors get started. Maybe read Quinn’s analysis and then my response. That is pretty much the latest word. They are downloadable from the Hales-Quinn dialogue page,

          • Roger D.  June 17, 2014

            I’m basing my observation from his (Don Bradley’s) posts on the Mormon Dialogue and Discussion board. I’m familiar with your analysis as well as Quinn’s.

          • Brian Hales  June 17, 2014

            That would be interesting and surprising. I’ll ask him–I’m sure he’s interested in knowing the rumors that are out there. He’s on his honeymoon right now so I guess I’ll wait a few days to email him. :-)

    • Stephen Smoot  June 17, 2014

      “Unfortunately for most that leave, it is issue after issue that eventually turn into a mountain.”

      But what if each issue turns out to actually be a non-issue? That, I believe, is one of the valuable contributions of Brian’s work. How many times have we heard it? “Joseph Smith sent men away on missions to steal their wives!” “Joseph Smith was a pedophile!” “Joseph Smith was a womanizer!” Etc. But Brian’s research has shown, convincingly, in my opinion, that these accusations, these “issues,” are actually non-issues, and stem from, at best, a severe misunderstanding of the historical evidence or, at worst, a deliberate attempt to manufacture negative claims to support a preconceived polemical agenda.

      This is why, to an extent, it’s hard for me to sympathize with those who have left the Church before they have done their homework. I sympathize that the decision may have been very difficult, but I cannot really sympathize when they cite specific historical or doctrinal issues for leaving that, again, turn out upon further research to be non-issues.

      As for feeling betrayed or let down by the Church for discovering things that aren’t taught in the typical Sunday School version of Church history, I have to wonder how they must feel when they come across work from scholars such as Brian here that indicates they were, it turns out, probably misled or misinformed not by the Church, but by the critical authors who fed them this negative yet problematic information.

  11. Chris  June 17, 2014

    Brian, I find your comment, “This is a common argument sometimes employed by critics who assume that the primary reason for plural marriage was “multiply and replenish” the earth (i.e. have physical offspring).” to be a little unfair given that this is the only condition that the Book of Mormon justifies the practice of polygamy. It is also the primary reason cited in the church’s new polygamy essay.

    I understand your argument that there is very little if any sources that indicate that JS’s polygamous marriages were sexual. You could say the same for the first few years of my marriage. You would not be able to find any evidence that my wife and I were intimate until we had our first child. If the sealings were as innocent as you propose, then why all the secrecy, lies, and deception? Why so many accusations in different states even in JS’s early years? He seemed unable to escape this reputation no matter where he went. I realize he was acquitted of most charges. However, would you allow your daughter to date a man who had been accussed and acquitted several different times in several different states of sexual deviancy? I know I wouldn’t because it still raises a major red flag even though there is no “evidence” of guilt. Why the need to marry teenage girls? If the purpose was just to tie families together wouldn’t it be possible to seal men together as brothers? If the marriages were non-sexual sealings, why wouldn’t Emma get on board? It just doesn’t add up.

    • Brian Hales  June 17, 2014

      Hi Chris,

      I would encourage you to look at my “Sexuality” section on this website under FAQs. I have documented that 12 of the marriages were consummated and possibly three more.

      It is true that “multiply and replenish” or “raise up seed” is the only reason given in the Book of Mormon, but Joseph gave three more as he explained it in greater detail. Can you imagine how confusing a discussion of eternal marriage would have been in Jacob 2-3? We are not sure they had eternal marriage, but they had a temple so we might assume so.

      The willingness of people to assume sexuality is not surprising. But we need to go back to Nauvoo and see the practice through the eyes of the original participants. They were just as skeptical as you and me. The primary driver for Joseph was to make sure everyone was sealed in a marriage and then when the temple was completed to seal everyone to parents. Sexuality was involved, but only assumption can be recruited to say it was a driving force or a frequent occurrence in Joseph’s plural marriages.

      Please read about he 14 years under the FAQs as well.

      One important point is that Joseph Smith did NOT have a reputation as a womanizer during the 1830s or anytime prior to John Bennett’s July 1842 accusations. If you disagree, how about producing some evidence. There are so many false teachings about Joseph Smith out there.

      You seem to question the secrecy. Hmmmm. He was teaching the Saints gospel meat “line upon line” and expanding the practice fairly quickly. Yet he knew it would not be universally accepted. William Law didn’t accept and he started the process that ended Joseph’s life. Perhaps the practice should have been kept secret a little longer.



  12. J B  June 17, 2014


    I liked your articles and also love that you spend the time to respond to everyone. In my research about the church, I’ve found it all depends on your internal psychological biases. Some have these biases in favor of the church, others against and that determines how they conclude their research. Also, I’ve often pondered joining the ranks and starting a website to produce my own apologetic responses, but my belief states that what you oppress/resist, grows. I agree we need these prayerfully thought of responses, however, it seems a sad biproduct that it produces so much disdain and further resentment towards the church (and you apparently). God speed and good luck.

    • Brian Hales  June 17, 2014

      Good post.

      I have been striving for years to correct undocumenatable claims against Joseph Smith regarding polygamy. I don’t expect these exchanges to really change anyone’s mind, but I believe Austin Farrer who said: “Though argument does not create conviction, the lack of it destroys belief. What seems to be proved may not be embraced; but what no one shows the ability to defend is quickly abandoned. Rational argument does not create belief, but it maintains a climate in which belief may flourish.”

      I believe that the Holy Spirit is important here. Joseph Smith taught: “And the Spirit shall be given unto you by the prayer of faith; and if ye receive not the Spirit ye shall not teach” (D&C 42:14). Observers who do not seek this Spirit will undoubtedly be disappointed with Joseph Smith’s claims. Since the historical record is less complete than we would desire, we are required to fill in the gaps according to our beliefs. It is my conviction that the Holy Ghost, or the lack thereof, facilitates individual conclusions regarding available evidence. But even for unbleievers, I argue there is no slam-dunk historical evidence showing Joseph was a fraud. People may have their lists of accusations and I have invited them to share their #1 reason for disbelief with me. However, to date I haven’t found anything compelling.

      I also appreciate the behaviors of Brigham Young, John Taylor, Eliza R. Snow, Zina Huntington and other Nauvoo polygamists who were pious and skeptical. According to their actions, they did not see Joseph as insincere or conniving. The Fawn Brodies of the world portray Joseph as a deceiver. Was Fawn so discerning that she could detect things Brigham could not? It is a paradox that those that knew him best apparently could not see what those who knew him least could allegedly detect a hundred years later.

      I believe that a review of all of the available evidence supports that Joseph Smith was not an adulterer or hypocrite, but a reluctant polygamist called by his God to establish a difficult and controversial practice.

      • Jonathan Streeter  June 17, 2014

        Are there any examples of women to whom Joseph proposed, who rejected him and then were public about the proposal but did not receive aspersions cast upon their person/reputation?

        The best evidence of a non-coercive arrangement would be if someone could reject Joseph’s proposals, disclose the fact of the proposal publicly and not have their name dragged through the mud for doing it.

        For example, if I had proposed to my wife and she rejected me, she might mention it to her family or to her friends – but I would not be justified in denying the fact of the proposal, calling her a prostitute, liar or harlot for doing so.

        • Brian Hales  June 19, 2014

          Five women turned Joseph down and the only reason we know about those proposals is because the woman or her family mentioned it later. See

          • Jonathan Streeter  June 19, 2014


            Your response is incomplete.

            We know of 3 other women who refused Joseph’s proposals – Martha Brotherton, Sarah Pratt and Nancy Rigdon.

            The fact that each of these women, who were previously considered to be upstanding in character, had their names and character disparaged after publicly disclosing the fact of Joseph’s Proposal is positive evidence that there was a threat of character assassination going along with the proposals.

            The women were free to refuse Joseph’s proposal without reprisal – *only if they kept quiet about it.*

            Unless you can provide and example of an instance where a woman refused Joseph’s proposal, was public about it and then did not have her name impugned or had Joseph come to her defense and confirm her statement, then all the evidence you have provided simply supports the idea that there were consequences if you go public with the facts of Joseph’s proposals.

            The fact that you do not mention Brotherton, Rigdon or Pratt when you discuss this “Myth” reveals a strong bias or blindspot that you have regarding this issue with Joseph Smith.

            A more honest response from you would concede that those women who did come forward and make Joseph’s proposals known had their character disparaged, while those who remained silent faced no reprisal.

          • Brian Hales  June 19, 2014

            Hi Jonathan,

            There are a few problems with your comments.

            First, Joseph Smith did not propose to Martha Brotherton, it was Brigham Young. Second, John C. Bennett is the only person who said Joseph would ruin a woman’s reputation if she turned him down. If you want to defend Bennett as reliable, then I’m happy to hear your evidence (and please include the contradictory evidences). Third, we have no direct quotes from Nancy Rigdon and she seemed happy to let the matter die in the spring of 1842 when the proposal occurred. At that time, Joseph said nothing about it as well. Then months later in July-August, when Bennett, with the help of Francis Higbee, broadcast it in the newspaper, Joseph defended himself, but until Bennett brought it up, both Nancy and Joseph seemed content to let it alone.

            You say Sarah Pratt had a good reputation? Hmmm. The evidence is very strong she was sexually involved with Bennett and a number of people knew it. Joseph tried to intervene. That she attacked him in order to cover up her own immoralities is probable. When accused by Sarah Pratt, Joseph aggressively defended himself. Please don’t believe Richard Van Wagoner’s views on this. Go to the original documents.

            I was going to I discuss here all seven proposals that were turned down, those to Esther M. Johnson, Lydia Moon, Sarah Granger Kimball, Cordelia C. Morley, Rachel Ivins, Nancy Rigdon, and Sarah Pratt. However, it is better if you just consult this article that mentions all seven:


            I conclude the article by saying: “Reviewing Joseph Smith’s actions in the cases of Nancy Rigdon and Sarah Pratt and comparing them to his calm response when he was rebuffed by Esther M. Johnson, Lydia Moon, Sarah Granger Kimball, Cordelia C. Morley, and Rachel Ivins suggests that, if Nancy and Sarah had kept silent concerning their interviews with Joseph Smith, the public scandals that followed would have been avoided.”



          • Jonathan Streeter  June 19, 2014


            Thanks for your reply.

            You are correct that Brotherton’s proposal was by Brigham Young (though according to her account Joseph stated that if Brigham didn’t work out she could be married to Joseph instead).

            That proposal was reported to have been made in Joseph’s presence, by Joseph’s close friend Brigham Young and after the same model of other reported proposals, with the same justifying revelation, carrying the same secrecy, and as we see, same consequences for disclosure.

            As such, there is no reason to carve out this proposal and consider it not to have any connection with Joseph’s own proposals. If he was instructing Brigham Young on how to conduct proposals in secret, then it would be expected to be similar and can be evaluated in the same vein.

            Regarding your last comment:

            “if Nancy and Sarah had kept silent concerning their interviews with Joseph Smith, the public scandals that followed would have been avoided.”

            That is a problematic argument.

            You appear to be saying that Joseph never retaliated against women who refused him, except for the ones who went public. Then since that produced a scandal (which Joseph encouraged by printing and distributing affidavits insulting the women rather than defending their character and acknowledging the proposals) it was their own fault for going public.

            Can you see how someone would find this to be a weak argument? It is like saying that the mob never hurt nobody – unless they ratted them out – but then it’s their own fault that they got pummeled.

          • Brian Hales  June 19, 2014

            Hi Again,

            Jonathan, it would be good if you would study the chronology. You may want to check out Volume 1 of Joseph Smith’s Polygamy: History and Theology.

            Here’s what happened. Nancy turned down Joseph in the spring, probably April 9, 1842. The available accounts all agree it came to a head and was over within a few days. Then there is no further mention of the episode by Nancy or Joseph at that time. In other words, she turned him down and nothing happened.

            Three months later Bennett apostatized and in the July 8, Sangamo Journal invited Nancy to share her “testimony” concerning Joseph’s proposal, which he called an “attempted seduction.” Through Francis Higbee, Nancy’s boyfriend, Bennett obtained details he published in the next issue (July 15th). Only after those publications did Joseph Smith respond. I argue that if Nancy would have kept still, she would have been treated like Esther M. Johnson, Lydia Moon, Sarah Granger Kimball, Cordelia C. Morley, and Rachel Ivins whose proposals came and went with no fanfare.

            Regarding Sarah Pratt, her reputation was already badly tarnished. She was never invited into the Relief Society, even though her husband was an Apostle. There are several valid affidavits attesting to her sexual relationship with Bennett in early 1841. Mary Ettie V. Coray Smith, a sometimes confused informant, related:

            “Orson Pratt, then, as now [1858], one of the “Twelve,’ was sent by Joseph Smith on a mission to England [in D&C 118:4-5 given July 8, 1838]. During his absence, his first (i.e. his lawful) wife, Sarah, occupied a house owned by John C. Bennett, a man of some note, and at that time, quartermaster-general of the Nauvoo Legion. Sarah was an educated woman, of fine accomplishments, and attracted the attention of the Prophet Joseph, who called upon her one day, and alleged he found John C. Bennett in bed with her. As we lived but across the street from her house we heard the whole uproar. Sarah ordered the Prophet out of the house, and the Prophet used obscene language to her.”

            This would have occurred before Orson Pratt, her husband, returned from England in July 1841. It is clear that Joseph tried to intervene at that time. Then nothing was said about it when Orson arrived in Nauvoo and for the next ten months. As Bennett’s immoralities were exposed in May and June of 1842, then the 1841 interaction between Sarah and Joseph Smith became public and eventually Sarah accused him of making a “dastardly attempt” on her.

            Joseph responded to her allegations by publicizing affidavits regarding her immoralities, but it wasn’t in response to her treatment of him in 1841 (prior to July). He was defending himself against claims made almost a year later that were not true (according to reliable evidences we have today).

            Orson Pratt initially believed his wife’s version of what happened, but in 1845, he was interviewed by Sidney Rigdon who questioned Orson further about the episode: “When Pratt was interrogated about this, he said that he had got a bad spirit when he said so, and that he had repented of it.” Rigdon concluded that Orson was “literally telling the people that all Smith said about his wife was true…” and added: “He has left on the character of his wife a stain, by this degraded condescension, that he can never wash out… Pratt is determined to make us believe it, by virtually declaring it was true; for if he was wrong when he called Smith a liar, then his wife was guilty of the charges preferred.” In other words, Orson later sided with Joseph acknowledging his wife was an adultress.

            The claim that Joseph would ruin the reputation of any woman who turned him down is not supported by the cases of Sarah Pratt or Nancy Rigdon. In both situations he was just publicly responding to the public accusations the women (or their representatives) were making. The claim comes from Bennett and I would recommend a second attestation to virtually anything he said that you wish to quote.


          • jonathan Streeter  June 22, 2014


            Thanks for your reply.

            One question – you mention that Sarah Pratt had a tarnished reputation and provide some quotes regarding her behavior in 1841. One relevant question would be whether or not those affidavits were given and recorded in 1841 before Joseph broadcast his allegations against Mrs. Pratt. If they were given after Josephs allegations were made public, then it would be difficult to give them the same credibility than if they were given after, just as Stephen Markhams affidavit against Nancy Rigdon was called into question. If those affidavits were given after Joseph’s accusations, then they would be tainted by the suggestions made by Joseph which could tend to taint the recollection of any testimony by faithful members who are predisposed to believe Joseph.

            An ancillary point here is that Nancy’s reputation prior to Joseph’s alleged proposal is an ad hominem attack. The question is not whether or not Sarah was adulterous, but whether or not the proposal that she alleged took place as she described. Whether or not Orson Pratt believed her is also an independent factor from whether or not it took place.

            Is it your position that Sarah Pratt was not proposed to by Joseph Smith?

            Next, You stated the following:

            “Nancy turned down Joseph in the spring, probably April 9, 1842. The available accounts all agree it came to a head and was over within a few days. Then there is no further mention of the episode by Nancy or Joseph at that time. In other words, she turned him down and nothing happened.”

            Now from this statement you are conceding that Joseph did in fact offer a proposal of Marriage to Nancy Rigdon. The matter was allegedly known of by Sidney Rigdon and her immediately family as they confronted Joseph on the matter, but they apparently kept it a private matter for a time. I mentioned in my earlier posts that as long as the women didn’t go public with his proposals, they did not suffer reprisal.Your statement that for a while nothing happened, supports that assertion. The fact that once made public, Nancy’s name was drug through the mud without Joseph stepping forth and acknowledging the actuality of the proposal or providing clarification is evidence of his tacit support for the insult to her character. Even when he authorized a small paragraph stating that the Markham affidavit was not approved by him – he didn’t refute it. He simply stated that he didn’t authorize it.

            Your account of the Rigdon sequence supports the assertion that Joseph would tolerate refusal by women he proposed to so long as they were not public about the proposal, but once made public Joseph initiated or tolerated character assassination.


          • Brian Hales  June 23, 2014

            Hi Jon,

            I appreciate your comments. I still recommend that you read my treatise of these topics in Volume 1 of Joseph Smith’s Polygamy. It might save us both a little time.

            I think a point where we differ is regarding what was said publicly. You seem to say that when a woman made a plural proposal public, then Joseph Smith would destroy her reputation. The problem is neither case was simply a plural proposal made public. Both Nancy and Sarah (or their representatives) were accusing Joseph Smith of seduction. Sarah reportedly said Joseph Smith made a “dastardly attempt” on her virtue. Nancy Rigdon’s case was broadcast by John C. Bennet. Consider this from HISTORY OF THE SAINTS page 242-43:

            “Joe then swore her to secrecy, and told her that she had long been the idol of his affections, and that he had asked the Lord for her, and that it was his holy will that’ he should have her as one of the Chambered Sisters of Charity ; but that, if she had any scruples on the subject, he would consecrate her with the Cloistered Saints, AND MARRY HER IMMEDIATELY —that it would not prevent her from marrying any other person—that he had the blessings of Jacob granted to hint — arid that all was lawful and right before God. He then attempted to kiss her, and desired her to kiss him.—But we must again quote the bard to express the scene.”

            If you think there is anything truthful in this account, then I would invite you to defend it. Bennett is the only person describing kisses by Joseph or any polygamist. I argue his account is pure fiction and Joseph Smith fought it on that grounds. (Please see my chapter on this.) He wasn’t attacking Nancy for turning down the proposal or for making something public. When Bennett published his lies, Joseph reacted.

            Sarah Pratt is similar. We don’t know what exactly what transpired between her and Joseph. However, in a meeting of the Twelve Apostles dated January 20, 1843, Joseph Smith told Orson that Sarah “lied about me.” The Prophet continued: “I never made the offer which she said I did.” He then counseled Orson: “I will not advise you to break up your family–unless it were asked of me. Then I would council you to get a bill from your wife and marry a virtuous woman.” Whatever discussion occurred between Sarah and Joseph Smith, I argue she sensationalized it as she endeavored to deflect attention away from her activities with Bennett. Joseph thereafter sought to rebut Bennett’s claims.

            Your comment about needing an affidavit concerning Sarah Pratt’s reputation in 1841 seems unrealistic. Why would anyone make out an affidavit when there is no reason to do so? As I said, Sarah was never invited to be in the Relief Society, which is supportive that she had a bad reputation. Also of importance are the affidavits. In August of 1842, Hancock County Sherriff J. B. Backenstos, signed the following affidavit:

            “Personally appeared before me Ebenezer Robinson an acting Justice of the Peace, in and for said county, J. B. Backenstos, who being duly sworn according to law, deposeth and saith, that some time during last winter, he accused Doctor John C. Bennett, with having an illicit intercourse with Mrs. Orson Pratt, and some others, when said Bennett replied that she made a first rate go, and from personal observations I should have taken said Doctor Bennett and Mrs. Pratt as man and wife, had I not known to the contrary, and further this deponent saith not.”

            Backenstos, as one of Bennett’s former followers claimed “personal observations” of impropriety and he was clearly positioned to have had such a conversation with the Doctor. Backenstos was not a Church member or follower of Joseph Smith. Catherine Fuller testified on May 25, 1842 that she had illicit relations with him just as Bennett had with her: “J. B. Backenstos has also been at my house… gave me two dollars.” (Catherine Fuller testimony before the Nauvoo High Council, May 25, 1842.) Backenstos is very credible as a follower of Bennett and as a witness with no reason to support Joseph Smith.

            Alleging that JS sought to destroy the reputations of Nancy and/or Sarah simply because they publicly divulged that he made a plural proposal to them is not supported because they never made the claim. Instead. they or those around them greatly sensationalized their accusations and made them public. Joseph responded against the allegations because they were not true. We need to be careful to not oversimplify the historical record.



  13. Stephen Lee  June 17, 2014

    Brian Hales suggests a deeper than perfunctory analysis of the life of Joseph so that we may judge correctly the prophets intentions yet fails to use the same judge-not-so-quickly assessment in his brief encounters with disaffected Mormons in the audience. It is as if to say that Joseph’s complexities should merit more than our cursory judgement but to those who hold opinions opposing the authors views… well, they get no such luxury.

    • Brian Hales  June 18, 2014

      Hi Stephen,

      You are correct that a few anecdotal interactions are not a scientific study. However, I think it is important that those experiences support a conclusion that is consistent with many other evidences. I don’t want to keep talking about John and I think de-escalation is a great idea. But he has acknowledged his lack of belief so why would we be surprised to find those with similar doubts attending a gathering he sponsered?

      Too often critics selectively quote the historical record and ignore contradictory evidences and do not examine the reliability of their sources. In my books I try to provide all the references including those that disagree with my conclusions so this doesn’t happen. Hopefully, readers will have all the evidence so they can make their own decisions independent of my interpretations or those of other authors.



  14. Darren  June 18, 2014

    I have always heard of positive reviews of Hales’ work on Joseph Smith and his polygamy. The more I listen and read of Hales the more this positive view of him is validated. There are a couple of big reads I have on my list of things to do and after those I truly do hope to get to sit down and read through Hales’ books.

  15. Craig L. Foster  June 18, 2014

    Excellent post, Brian, as well as your responses to comments and questions. Your obvious expertise in this subject is well reflected in your answers.

  16. Allen Wyatt  June 18, 2014


    Thanks for all your hard work and detailed, meticulous study. Plural marriage, as I am aware, is an amazingly complex and fascinating topic. If the phrase “we see through a glass darkly” applies anywhere, it is this field of study.

    Societal abhorrence to plural marriage is alive and well. The abhorrence evident in many responses here is mixed with outright rejection of Joseph Smith’s prophetic claims, although it is unclear for the individual commenters which came first–the abhorrence or the rejection. If such abhorrence and prophetic rejection is evident in our “enlightened” and sexually permissive age, should one wonder why plural marriage was practiced in secret by a limited number of “insiders” during the Victorian age prevalent in the Nauvoo period? To even question the propriety of the secrecy by which the practice was started is to exemplify an astounding ignorance of both history and human nature.

    The fact is, people in that period did live as they felt God expected them to live, even as they knew that doing so would make them societal pariahs. Dismissing plural marriage up as simply an evidence of satisfying libidos is simplistic to the extreme. I always like the concept that if Joseph (or other men) wanted to satisfy their libido, there were easier (and more socially acceptable) ways to do it in Victorian America.

    Again, thank you for your work, and I understand your frustration with John Dehlin and his lazy brand of historical analysis.


    • Brian Hales  June 18, 2014

      Thanks Allen, I know you have studied this topic a great deal. Your thoughts are really appreciated! Brian

  17. Thomas King  June 18, 2014


    You have done a great job in your research on Joseph Smith and polygamy. You have guts to keep after it the way you are doing. I have read most of your site, all the threads on this blog as well as the threads on mormon discussion about this blog post. I have studied polygamy for 20 years to try and make sense of it all. In a nutshell, there is no sense. None. But until the “church” admits that it was wrong, guys like you will constantly find ways to justify it or find ways that it “could be” divine.

    What seems to be “fact” in most cases is really just “belief” or “opinion”. If I write something in my journal and 100 years from now someone reads it, that does not constitute “fact”. It does however constitute my opinion or belief on the matter of subject. Now, if I were to write in my journal that on 9 11 2001 the Twin Towers were bombed and in a 100 years someone read that, it would constitute more of a “fact” because they could find many other sources that would support that entry.

    Here are some of my issues that I have encountered of which I am sure you have a good response for.

    You mentioned that you spent two years searching everything “anti” you could find regarding not just polygamy, but pretty much about the church itself. We just had a gentleman excommunicated three weeks ago in our ward for reading “non-church supported literature” about the history of the church. He was asked to stop reading this information and when he refused he was excommunicated for apostasy.

    How is it that guys like you and Richard Bushman can get away with reading, searching, involved on internet boards, etc and the church esteems you in a high standard where the “regular” member is disciplined for this same action?

    It reminds me of when a church family councilor I knew once told me of a group of men that the church put together to study pornography. They were to look at all of it, spend time where it was developed and come back with a report to see the affects of addictive behavior. Again, the normal member is disciplined for this type of behavior, but if we call it “study” or if we “hang” with the brethren or higher ups it seems justified.

    The church needs guys like you more than ever before. In fact, I’m sure you are on one of the essay “boards” that us regular folks get to read the church’s reason for hot topics. The very fact that these essays are not written by our own prophet, or at least the first presidency with their names signed, should give you enough reason to question.

    Brian, polygamy, for whatever reason, is not a good thing, period. There is no justification in anyway of this behavior. This is 100% man made, not at all from God. Just because it came from Joseph Smith does not constitute this practice worthy or good or justified or an eternal practice whatsoever. No matter how much “proof” or whatever you can come up with to justify it, it is still wrong. There isn’t even a bit of right in it.

    I have read every twist that can be had and it still doesn’t make it right. Now of course this is only my “opinion” or “belief” and I think to clarify what you are doing you need to state it the same. Your research has brought you to this “belief” or “opinion” of polygamy, not fact nor truth. It might be truth to you, but that doesn’t make it truth. In fact, I am sure the act of polygamy or polyandry might even cause you to squirm a bit, but because of your “belief” in the church and Joseph Smith, you have put it on your “God will have to explain that one to me” shelf. That is okay with me, but you are selling the justification of what and why Joseph did what he did. Just because he didn’t write in his journal that he was having sexual relations with these girls does not mean he didn’t.

    I understand that you are selling books. That is great and I support that, but it also means you have already given your stance in writing so regardless of moving forward, you can’t rescind on your stance. That would stop all book sales and kind of be embarrassing. I am in the spot I can go either way at any time with new information or belief. You can’t. That sucks!

    Sometimes I have to sit back and laugh at the ongoing battle between the Ford’s (the Fawn Brodie’s) and the Chevy’s (the Brian Hales) of the world. The debates go on . . .

    Keep it up Brian, you are doing a great job and regardless of whether I agree or disagree, I enjoy reading it all.

    • Brian Hales  June 18, 2014

      Hi Thomas,

      I appreciate your post. It seems well constructed and respectful. Thanks also for the kind words.

      I don’t think the Church can ever say polygamy is a false principle due to D&C 132:16-17. Those verses state that unmarried women will remain “separately and singly without exaltation in the saved condition to all eternity.” Plurality of wives allows all worthy women to be sealed to an eternal spouse and become candidates for exaltation. Therefore a few men will need to be polygamists in eternity, but certainly but not all. (Sorry to Mormon fundamentalists.) It seems that discarding plural marriage would require dispensing with eternal marriage as well. I believe eternal marriage is Joseph’s zenith doctrine. Brigham explained it this way:

      The whole subject of the marriage relation is not in my reach, nor in any other man’s reach on this earth. It is without beginning of days or end of years; it is a hard matter to reach. We can tell some things with regard to it; it lays the foundation for worlds, for angels, and for the Gods; for intelligent beings to be crowned with glory, immortality, and eternal lives. In fact, it is the thread which runs from the beginning to the end of the holy Gospel of salvation—of the Gospel of the Son of God; it is from eternity to eternity.

      Brigham wasn’t talking about PLURAL marriage but ETERNAL marriage. It is a foundational doctrine of the Church and I believe it always will be.

      I’m sad to hear that anyone could be excommunicated for reading certain material. I frankly find it hard to believe. In this Church problems begin when people start teaching ideas that contradict official Church doctrines. We can believe and read whatever we desire, but we can’t teach contrary to accepted principles and keep our memberships. Leaders are obligated to take action (see Alma 5:59-60; D&C 64: 12-13). While every writer has biases, there are many writers who “spin” the evidences portraying Joseph Smith as unjustifiably hypocritical and sinful. These voices have become so prevalent recently. If you read the posts here, several writers criticize my defenses. They seem to imply that the “spin” should not be opposed because it is so voluminous or something. Of course I understand they possess the belief that Joseph was a fraud etc. and so they see my efforts as trying to save a ship that has already sunk.

      You wrote: “I am sure the act of polygamy or polyandry might even cause you to squirm a bit.” I don’t like polygamy. It expands a man’s sexual and emotional opportunities as a husband as it simultaneously diminishes a woman’s sexual and emotional opportunities as a wife. On earth it can only be seen as unfair and sexist. I won’t defend it as an earthly practice. However as I explained above, the primary reason for plural marriage, Joseph explained in D&C 132: 16-17, 63, is based upon eternal marriage because it allows all worthy women to be sealed to a husband. No sex is required, which is why many of his sealings were “eternity only.”

      Regarding polyandry, I believe Joseph did not practice it in any genuine sense. Full sexual polyandry was adultery and he never would have tolerated it. I expect you have read the evidence etc.

      Thanks again for the encouragement. I sometimes feel like Alma (Alma 29:1) because I believe. But I will always appreciate those that disagree agreeably.


  18. Burk  June 18, 2014

    “Helen Mar Kimball, was offered to Joseph as a plural wife by her father Heber C. Kimball. There is no evidence the Prophet initiated the process.”

    How does that even matter? If somebody presents me with their child to marry the ONLY logical response is ‘no’.

    • Brian Hales  June 18, 2014

      Good question. It is important because people portray Joseph Smith as a predator of 14-year-olds and there is no evidence to support it. Evidence is strong this marriage was not consummated. It is true that Joseph said yes to the sealing, but he gave Helen her choice (if you read the documents). I hope that helps. See the bio of Helen Mar Kimball on this website. Brian

  19. TrevorM  June 18, 2014

    Hi Brian,

    I appreciate your very positive and pleasant approach to posting. It’s nice to see.

    How do you feel about Joseph’s decision to lie about polygamy? One of the things that I find most troubling about Joseph’s behavior is that he spent so much time being deceptive about his involvement in the practice, including to his own wife.

    One example, as you know I’m sure, from late in the Nauvoo era: “What a thing it is for a man to be accused of committing adultery, and having seven wives, when I can find only one!” (History of the Church Vol. 6). By this time Joseph had acquired a large number of wives, but persisted in concealing it from almost everyone.

    In this thing Joseph was not “honest in [his] dealings with his fellow man.” Joseph would not have qualified for today’s temple recommends. Perhaps equally troubling is the fact that polygamy ultimately led to the prophet’s death. The grave crime of the Nauvoo Expositor was that it accused him of being a polygamist. He destroyed the press, at least in part to conceal that secret, and it put him on the road to Carthage.

  20. Jolie Hales  June 18, 2014

    Very thoughtfully constructed and well put.

  21. echarles1  June 19, 2014

    “It is true that Joseph was sealed to two 14 year olds. One (Nancy Maria Winchester) we know nothing about, so to discuss her situation in any way, positive or negative, requires speculation.”
    This statement is itself not true. We do know she was sealed to Smith. That is not nothing. More than that it allows for consummation in a way that say mere acquaintanceship would not.

    • Brian Hales  June 19, 2014

      Thanks for the observation.

      I agree that a marriage sealing would change a relationship. But we know nothing about the relationship itself. We do know that Helen Mar Kimball, who lived in Salt Lake City and was sealed to Joseph when she was 14 was not called to testify in the Temple Lot trial even though she had written two pamphlets supporting plural marriage. The Temple Lot lawyers needed testimony that Joseph Smith practiced full polygamy and since the RLDS did not, they were not a true successor to Joseph’s Church. So instead, they summoned Malissa Lott from Lehi and Lucy Walker from Logan and Emily Partridge from SLC, all who acknowledged in their testimonies that they experienced sexual relations with Joseph. Helen would have made an excellent witness if she could have truthfully testified of sexuality in that sealing.

      Regarding polygamous marriages after Joseph Smith’s death, Eugene Campbell wrote:

      One of the more distressing developments was the number of men asking [Brigham] Young for permission to marry girls too young to bear children. To one man at Fort Supply, Young explained, ‘I don’t object to your taking sisters named in your letter to wife if they are not too young and their parents and your president and all connected are satisfied, but I do not want children to be married to men before an age which their mothers can generally best determine.’ Writing to another man in Spanish Fork, he said, ‘Go ahead and marry them, but leave the children to grow.’ A third man in Alpine City was instructed, ‘It is your privilege to take more wives, but set a good example to the people, and leave the children long enough with their parents to get their growth, strength and maturity.’ To Louis Robinson, head of the church at Fort Bridger, Young advised, ‘Take good women, but let the children grow, then they will be able to bear children after a few years without injury.’ Another man in Santa Clara was told that it would be wise to marry an Indian girl but only if she were mature. Still another man wanted Young to counsel him concerning a sister who proposed to give him her twelve-year-old daughter.

      I believe this policy of waiting until teenagers were older started in Nauvoo with Joseph Smith, but there is no way to prove it.

      One of the real problems I have witnessed in people who study Joseph Smith is their willingness to speculate about Joseph Smith’s behaviors and then condemn him based upon their speculations. If he was such a scoundrel, I think we might have better evidence. I like Richard L. Bushman’s observation: “Polygamy is an interesting thing because it serves as a Rorschach test. People project onto Joseph Smith and polygamists their own sense about human nature.”



  22. Kevin  June 23, 2014

    This is such nonsense. I doubt that Don would ever say such a thing about his reconversion. Of course there are problematic issues. That’s why Don left in the first place. The fact that he rejoined doesn’t negate the fact that those issues exist, it just means he found a way to rationalize things in order to make Mormonism work for him. For some people what is ultimately true doesn’t matter so much as what they want emotionally (in Mormon speak, “spiritually”). Some people don’t know of any other life except Mormonism, and given Don’s social background, there is hardly any doubt that it played into his decision to rejoin. His life was in shambles at the time and he was dependent on the Church in more ways than one. He never said that he rejoined the Church because he found out, through his extensive study, that the supposed problematic issues turned out to be “half-truths and spin.” He never once said that in any of his various explanations for rejoining.

    Joseph Smith marrying other men’s wives and young girls while lying about it presents several “problematic issues,” in and of itself. This is just the tip of the iceberg of problematic issues. This isn’t “spin” or a “half truth” and for Brian to suggest otherwise is nothing short of deception on his part. It is a fact. And it is also a fact that the Church doesn’t want prospective converts to know about it. That is the legacy of Don and Brian’s precious Church. Luring people into the Church while giving them “half truths” about their con artist founder.

    If people were told this fact during missionary discussions, I doubt the Church would baptize a single convert. So if Mormons have so much confidence in the so-called “spiritual” power of their Church and its truthfulness, then why not lay all the cards on the table for newcomers?

    • Brian Hales  June 24, 2014

      Hi Kevin,

      You are obviously entitled to your opinions and speculations, but I disagree with your comment “He [Don Bradley] never said that he rejoined the Church because he found out, through his extensive study, that the supposed problematic issues turned out to be ‘half-truths and spin.’ He never once said that in any of his various explanations for rejoining.” He didn’t use that exact language, but he said something like he wrote a rebuttal to his reasons for leaving the Church and the rebuttal ate them whole. It was very strong. You can listen to his comments here:

      The reason our missionaries do not teach polygamy can be found in the New Testament and Doctrine and Covenants. Paul warned the Hebrews: “Ye have need that one teach you again which be the first principles of the oracles of God; and are become such as have need of milk, and not of strong meat” (Hebrews 5:12). Similarly, Joseph Smith revealed concerning new followers in 1830: “I command you that you preach naught but repentance, and show not these things unto the world until it is wisdom in me. For they cannot bear meat now, but milk they must receive; wherefore, they must not know these things, lest they perish” (D&C 19:21-22; italics added). Apparently “the world” and gospel infants need “milk”; giving them “meat” may cause them to choke and “perish.” The Apostle Peter advised: “As newborn babes, desire the sincere milk of the word, that ye may grow thereby” (1 Peter 2:2).

      Let me know what you think of Don’s motives after you listen to his comments.

      Take Care,


    • Stephen Smoot  June 24, 2014

      “He never said that he rejoined the Church because he found out, through his extensive study, that the supposed problematic issues turned out to be “half-truths and spin.” He never once said that in any of his various explanations for rejoining.”

      Maybe he didn’t use those exact words, but that’s what he told me back in 2013 when I interviewed him for an article.

      “Bradley has recently rejoined the LDS Church after a period of disbelief, wherein he viewed Joseph Smith as an ‘opportunistic and insincere’ fraud who ‘used religion to get money, sex, and power.’ Since then he has had a dramatic change of belief, thanks in part to his work with Hales, which ‘changed [his] mind to look again at religion’ and reevaluate his belief in the LDS Church.”

      I going from memory here, but I recall Don telling me that he was forced to change his “Smith as Fraud” paradigm as he reevaluated the historical sources. This is also what he told the Salt Lake Tribune:

      “The questions we ask largely determine the kinds of answers we find. … I had pushed the cynical interpretation [of Joseph Smith] as far as it could go, tried to explain as much as I could using that model, only to find the model ultimately deficient. It could not explain the spiritual power of Joseph Smith and of the faith he founded. … I have no doubt, on historical grounds alone, that Joseph Smith is vastly bigger than the cynical caricature of him and that he was a sincere seeker after truth and a magnanimous soul.”

      Then again, if this “Kevin” is the Kevin whom I suspect it is (given the brash and condescending tone and the liberal accusations of deception on the part of those who disagree with him), I seriously doubt this information will change his negative opinion.

  23. Jeremy  June 30, 2014

    Hi Brian, I just found your site today and love your thorough approach and thoughtful, researched responses. You convey a spirit of respect and understanding regardless of the viewpoint of those who comment.

    I am curious as to your viewpoint (and if there is a more appropriate thread for it I understand) regarding the belief expressed that polygamy is “wrong”. I understand and agree with the potential effects on one’s sensibilities. However I have only found Biblical support for it, when practiced under God sanctioned guidelines, and have failed to locate Biblical evidences or statements that monogamy is the only acceptable form of marriage.

    Some claim that monogamy by law, was first instituted by conquering nations such as Greece and Rome. See the following link although I am not making any claim to its historical accuracy just as an example of another paradigm.

    That being the case my thoughts on Isaiah 4:1 lead me to conclude that polygamy will return when the people are better prepared to understand it’s principles and purposes.

    As a matter of precedent, the Lord restored consecration but withdrew it as a requirement when the people were unable to abide by its precepts. It has yet to be fully implemented. The Lord restored the priesthood to all men and African Americans were able to be ordained amid a nation of slavery. The public was not ready for this and policy was implemented in 1852 restricting the priesthood. (Brigham Young being a product of that time was no doubt influenced by it in evidence of his remarks) The Lord sent spirits into the world like Brown, Lincoln, Frederick Douglass, Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King Jr., and others to pave the way for emancipation, a war, and a civil rights act in 1964, so that people were ready for it in 1979. Polygamy was revealed to Joseph Smith, instituted in 1843, recinded in 1890 perhaps because western society was not ready. Now we see polygamous TV shows like Sister Wives, and My Five Wives shedding a light into this lifestyle. Is it really hard to imagine that they may possibly be paving the way toward it’s tolerance?

    So again I ask, is there any Biblical support to the idea that monogamy is the only acceptable form of matrimony before God?

    If not what is the basis of it being “wrong”?

    • Brian Hales  July 1, 2014

      Hi Jeremy,

      Your question about the Bible and polygamy is valid and useful. A review of the Bible shows that there is no theology of marriage taught anywhere within its pages. That is, after reading the Bible, one cannot say whether celibacy is better or worse that monogamy or whether monogamy is better or worse than polygamy. The Bible does not condemn polygamy at any time, but it also does not promote it.

      Regarding Joseph Smith’s teachings, plural marriage is needed to allow all worthy women to be sealed to a worthy husband and to become candidates for exaltation (see D&C 132:16-17, 63). Please read:

      However, since polygamy expands a man’s sexual and emotional opportunities as a husband as it simultaneously diminishes a woman’s sexual and emotional opportunities as a wife, it is sexist and unfair on earth. Personally, I don’t think plural marriage is sexist or unfair in heaven where time is no longer and there are limitless resources. But on earth, it is difficult to defend.

      Some people confuse a polygamous lifestyle with celestial marriage. All plural marriages need to be sealed by proper authority. Otherwise they are not valid in the next life and constitute adultery here on earth. The issue is authority. Freelance polygamy will always be condemned.

      For example, while in Nauvoo, Hyrum Smith, the Prophet’s brother and Associate President and Church Patriarch, attempted to seal a marriage without Joseph’s approval. Two years later, in 1845, Brigham Young recalled the event:

      “Joseph said that the sealing power is always vested in one man, and that there never was, nor never would be but one man on the earth at a time to hold the –sealing power- keys of the sealing power in the church, that all sealings must be performed by the man holding the keys or by his dictation, and that man is the president of the church. . . . Hyrum [Smith] was counseller . . . but the sealing power was not in Hyrum, legitimately, neither did he act on the sealing principle only as he was dictated by Joseph in every case This was proven, for Hyrum did in one case undertake to seal without counsel, & Joseph told him if he did not stop it he would go to hell and all those he sealed with him.”

      In other words, the sealing keys must be used or there is no marriage.

      In 1847, three years later after the Prophet’s death, W.W. Phelps served a mission to the eastern states where he married three wives polygamously. His mission companion, Henry B. Jacobs, performed the marriages without first obtaining permission from President Young. Phelps returned to Winter Quarters, Iowa, with his three new “wives.” Brigham Young heard the story and addressed Phelps: “You have been living in adultery – [N]o man can have the 2nd woman unless he ha[s] the consent of the man who holds the sealing power…” He also remarked: “[I]f bro Phelps had told us last Spring that he was going to bring a girl – I wo[ul]d. have given her to you & [would have been] glad to do it.” Phelps was excommunicated on December 6, 1847 but was quickly rebaptized after acknowledging his misunderstanding. Nevertheless, the most important observation is that President Young considered unauthorized plural marriage relations adultery, even when the participants were (like Phelps) sincere in those marriages.

      Thomas S. Monson holds the sealing keys today. They are required to perform any eternal marriage, monogamous or polygamous. Polygamous sealings for the living are not permitted, but they are permitted for the dead (vicariously) and when a widower (who was previously sealed to his deceased wife) is sealed to a new living wife in the temple.

      I hope this helps.

      Take Care,


  24. Jeremy  July 5, 2014

    Thank you Brian. I am in complete agreement with the item on authority and on the keys of the priesthood necessary. I especially thank you for your last paragraph as I noticed while reading the introduction to this year’s PH/RS manual from Joseph Fielding Smith, that he was sealed to 3 wives for eternity but never married to more than 1 at a time in mortality. This prompted my research. Thank you again for your time with this site.

  25. Scott  July 21, 2014

    Brian, I find the “standards” for your scholarly approach ridiculous. You criticize Alex Beam for his use of secondary sources (and, therefore, all other researchers, including Richard Bushman), but don’t you think it’s unfair to expect a bevy of primary sources discussing first-hand sexual relations from a mid-nineteenth century audience (especially an extremely religious, mid-nineteenth century audience)? To me, the sheer amount of secondary evidence alone for Joseph’s sexual relations with his plural wives is staggering. To ignore it, let alone deny it, is poor scholarship on your part. Comments like Joseph Smith telling William Law that one of his plural wives “afforded him much pleasure” (also quoted in Rough Stone Rolling) are a direct indictment of Joseph’s intimacy with at least one of his plural wives. I think you’ve gotten so deep inside your own twisted mode of scholarship that you’ve lost touch with reality in regard to Joseph. I’m not even saying that it’s unfair to say that Joseph wasn’t a prophet, but the level at which you go to dismiss his actions in regard to polygamy is appalling.

    • Brian Hales  July 21, 2014

      Hi Scott,

      Thanks for the observations.

      I think there may be a little confusion between a “secondary source” and a “late recollection.” A secondary source is quoting someone who has seen a primary source and is interpreting it. Unless I’m quoting someone, everything I write is a “secondary source.” So are the interpretations from Fawn Brodie, Todd Compton, George D. Smith, Linda King Newell and Valeen Avery etc.

      Primary sources, on the other hand, come from witnesses by recording their statements or having them write down what they witnessed. The most important primary sources for Nauvoo polygamy are the 1869-1870 affidavits and testimonies collected by Apostle Joseph F. Smith, data accumulated by Andrew Jenson a decade later, and the 1892 Temple Lot depositions. All of these are “primary documents” because they come from witnesses, but they are also “late recollections” because they were recorded decades after the events occurred.

      My criticism of Beam is that he lazily quoted unscrutinized secondary sources, apparently because he liked what they were saying. It is just poor scholarship to take any author’s word for it (even my own) without checking the validity of the documentation.

      I’m confused by your statement: “To me, the sheer amount of secondary evidence alone for Joseph’s sexual relations with his plural wives is staggering.” “Staggering” is hardly the word I would use, but I have accumulated EVERY known document supporting sexuality in Joseph’s plural marriages in Appendix E of Volume 2 of Joseph Smith’s Polygamy: History and Theology. They are also available in the essay at I document sexuality in 12 of the relationships with ambiguous evidence in three more.

      You are free to criticize me, but I would encourage you to study the documents before judging me or Joseph Smith. The only credible reference regarding the Prophet using any kind of language that reflects a sexual connotation is the one you mentioned (from William Law via Bushman). I have found no other credible examples. Perhaps you have? If so, then I would appreciate you sharing it.

      Concerning William Law’s statement, Bushman wrote: ” We might expect that Joseph, the kind of dominant man who is thought to have strong libidinal urges, would betray his sexual drive in his talk and manner. Bred outside the rising genteel culture, he was not inhibited by Victorian prudery. But references to sexual pleasure are infrequent. William Law, Joseph’s counselor in the First Presidency, said he was shocked once to hear Joseph say one of his wives ‘afforded him great pleasure.’ That report is one of the few, and the fact that it shocked Law suggests such comments were infrequent.”

      You say I’m “deep inside [my] own twisted mode of scholarship.” If so, then I need scholars like you to provide some manuscript documentation showing me how to get to the truth. I would appreciate it.

      Take Care,

      Brian Hales

  26. Scotty P  July 23, 2014


    I want to respond to your argument about D&C 22:1, which you interpret as teaching that “a sealing in the new and everlasting covenant would cause a previous marriage covenant to be ‘done away’ (D&C 22:1, 132:4).” I have noticed that you rely upon this argument in the above comments as well as elsewhere on your site.

    The problem with this argument is that Joseph Smith was sealed to other women (including, so you claim, to Fanny Alger) before he was sealed to Emma. Therefore, according to your argument, this would mean that, upon Joseph’s sealing to Fanny, Joseph’s marriage covenant to Emma would have been “done away” with. Joseph and Emma weren’t sealed until May 28, 1843, which you acknowledge elsewhere on this site. Was Joseph committing adultery with Emma after he was sealed to Fanny?

    Note that D&C 22:1 is in no way gender specific. It says that “all old covenants” are done away in the new and everlasting covenant. When a man is sealed, “all” of his old covenants are done away with, just as a woman’s are.

    Also, if a man and woman are civilly married today, and then sealed a year later, does that mean that their civil marriage is “done away” with and that they are no longer legally married?

    Scotty P

    • Brian Hales  July 23, 2014

      Hi Scotty P.

      I appreciate the questions.

      D&C 22:1, which states: “Behold, I say unto you that all old covenants have I caused to be done away in this thing; and this is a new and an everlasting covenant, even that which was from the beginning” and D&C 132:4, which states: “For behold, I reveal unto you a new and an everlasting covenant . . .”

      It is true that I believe those two verses would prevent a woman from having two lawful husbands, one through a legal ceremony and another through a sealing in the new and everlasting covenant because the sealing would cause a civil marriage to be “done away” from a Church standpoint. I am not alone. Jedidiah Grant recalled Joseph’s teachings that “all covenants are done away, and none are binding but the new covenants” (JD 2:13-14). Todd Compton gave this extreme view, “Thus all couples in Nauvoo who accepted Mormonism were suddenly unmarried, granted Joseph’s absolutist, exclusivist claims to divine authority.” John D. Lee also acknowledged the superiority of a sealing marriage ordinance:

      “About the same time the doctrine of ‘sealing’ for an eternal state was introduced [1842-43], and the Saints were given to understand that their marriage relations with each other were not valid. That those who had solemnized the rites of matrimony had no authority of God to do so. That the true priesthood was taken from the earth with the death of the Apostles and inspired men of God. That they were married to each other only by their own covenants, and that if their marriage relations had not been productive of blessings and peace, and they felt it oppressive to remain together, they were at liberty to make their own choice, as much as if they had not been married.”

      Nevertheless, I think you bring up an interesting point. If I understand you correctly, you are suggesting that D&C 22:1 would have caused Joseph’s legal marriage to Emma to be “done away” as soon as he was sealed to Louisa Beaman on April 5, 1841. (Fanny Alger was not a sealing in the new and everlasting covenant because it occurred before the sealing authority was restored on April 3, 1836. It was simply a priesthood marriage for time.)

      You are correct to observe that D&C 22:1 is not gender specific. However, the new and everlasting covenant is gender specific. It allows a man to have more than one wife but it does not allow a woman to have more than one husband (D&C 132:63). On earth, it is unfair and sexist. However, it does not classify a a man’s previous legal marriage as an “old covenants” because he can be married to more than one woman. In contrast, there is no similar provision in the new and everlasting covenant for a woman to be married to more than one man. Hence any previous marriage would be and “old covenant” from a Church standpoint as soon as she was sealed in the new and everlasting covenant.

      You pose an interesting question: “Also, if a man and woman are civilly married today, and then sealed a year later, does that mean that their civil marriage is ‘done away’ with and that they are no longer legally married?” From the standpoint of the Church, both are valid on earth. However, in eternity, only the sealing applies (D&C 132:15, 19-20). We recall that Nauvoo couples were never truly viewed as being “unmarried” if their marriages were legally performed (according to the laws of the land) but were not sealed (by priesthood authority). During the 1839 to 1845 period, civil marriages were performed by Church leaders when requested by members. There were at least two in 1839, thirty in 1840, forty-five in 1841, sixteen in 1842, sixteen in 1843 and twenty-seven in 1844, with twenty-eight in 1845. Joseph personally performed at least twelve and Hyrum Smith twenty-six. (I have the references if you are interested.)

      Thanks for the thoughtful questions.


  27. EG  July 29, 2014

    Dehlin makes a living attacking the church and leading people out of the church. He has stated he is an Atheist. Why be surprised about how he conducted the podcast, his leading questions, and his criticisms?

    For some reason church leaders do not have the backbone to excommunicate him.
    People seem to forget that when it comes to history, a lot of information is missing about a lot of things regardless of the topic or event.

  28. dave  August 3, 2014


    That is sad to hear of John’s questions even after he admitted in the 2013 podcasts that he had jumped to conclusions too soon on many of these issues. You presented him with the facts, he acknowledged them, said his previous behavior was wrong, and supposedly in this instance has done nothing to change it. Neal A. Maxwell’s wheat and tares quote comes to mind here. It unfortunately questions the very character of Mr. Dehlin.


  29. Jason  August 4, 2014

    Thank you for your words on this website. No doubt, the efforts of you and others will defend the Kingdom in the future. I graduated from BYU in 2010 with a history degree. My primary emphasis was in early American history. I took many classes on early Mormon history. Previously, I was aware of many of the “issues”, but it was with glee that I was exposed to the primary sources. Like your experience, the closer I get to Joseph Smith (through primary sources), the more I believe him. I fear that in today’s society, people don’t study the material enough. When presented with a alternative view of Joseph and others, many accept what dissenters say as truth.

    In my view, John Dehlin is the ultimate narcissist. He seeks to reach out to the Trib, or ANY news source that will listen when anything happens in Mormondom. He presents himself as the “authority”, and he seeks to bring glory unto himself. He certainly entraps a lot of this narcissistic and lazy generation. I particularly found your point about the young woman relevant to today. People I know who have had a faith crisis or otherwise left the church have had a very shallow knowledge of these topics that I find disturbing. Many get a narrative in their mind, and won’t accept contradictory information. In sum, you are building the foundation of a great work. Thank you!


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