This is a review of a new book recently published (May 2019) about Joseph Smith entitled “Joseph Smith Revealed: A Faithful Telling – Exploring an Alternate Polygamy Narrative.” The author is Whitney N. Horning. The cover design is from Vernon Roy Horning, with original artwork based on the death mask of Joseph Smith.
It is available on Amazon in paperback ($24.00) or Kindle format ($7.00). The book is 427 pages and about 150,000 words by my count. I read it in both the electronic and paperback format, alternating between the two. I read it in about four days, including all 1,000+ footnotes. It was not a difficult read. Technically well-written and well-researched.
My Personal Appraisal
If you love LDS history as I do, especially the Nauvoo era, you will love this book. Be prepared for a refreshing and unusual treatment of the subject. This is decidedly not a telling of the story of Mormon polygamy from the standard or traditional LDS point of view. The author takes advantage of RLDS sources that most LDS authors will dismiss. Although I had long been aware of them, I had always discounted them as being from the “other” branch of the restoration movement. In this reading, I found them extremely helpful, especially in regards to understanding Emma.
This book is chock full of truth. It was written in just under a year. The logic contained in each section is inescapable. The doctrine is deep and powerful. The refutation of false and dangerous traditions cuts deep to the core of anyone who holds on to them. This book is a call to repentance, especially to those who still believe polygamy is ordained of God or was taught or practiced by Joseph Smith. If you are a descendant of a polygamous family, you must read this book. Your appreciation for Joseph will increase and your eyes will be opened about how polygamy really came about in Mormon history.
Joseph Smith Fought Polygamy
You will also find a great deal of reliance on Joseph Smith Fought Polygamy (2000) by Richard Price. I have not read this book yet, but now intend to do so. By the way, you can read it online. So is Whitney’s book a rehashing of the RLDS and Price’s position that denies Joseph had anything to do with polygamy and that it was all Brigham’s doing? No, decidedly not. There is so much more. However, I will tell you this book changed the way I think about Joseph and Emma and their response to what was happening in Nauvoo.
The LDS Church teaches that the early leaders of the LDS Church taught, sanctioned and practiced polygamy. That may be true as far as Brigham Young, John Taylor and Heber C. Kimball are concerned, but you’ve got to take Joseph and Emma out of that mindset. It had always bothered me to think that Joseph was secretly practicing polygamy while publicly condemning it. I no longer think that. I believe polygamy is immoral and is adultery. Whitney’s book convinced me Joseph felt the same way and taught that.
No Man Knows My History
The title is interesting. It calls to mind Joseph’s statement, “You Don’t Know Me. You never knew my heart. No man knows my history. I don’t blame any one for not believing my history. If I had not experienced what I have, I would not have believed it myself.” I have a dozen biographies of Joseph Smith in my library, including Fawn Brodie’s book entitled “No Man Knows My History,” and Richard Bushman’s “Rough Stone Rolling.” Neither one left me with a favorable impression of Joseph after I finished them. On the other hand, my esteem and admiration for the prophet Joseph increased as I read Whitney’s book. Her book has done more to help me appreciate Joseph than any other.
Paraphrasing Bruce R. McConkie, “Joseph stands revealed or he remains forever unknown. Joseph can be known only by and through the Spirit of God.” And further paraphrasing Joseph himself, “… [my history is] of deep import; and time, and experience, and careful and ponderous and solemn thoughts can only find [it] out.” In other words, it would be wise to ask God to reveal Joseph to us, what he believed and taught, especially on the subject of polygamy or plural marriage.
What the LDS Church Teaches
There have been dozens of histories written about Joseph and almost an equal number on the subject of polygamy among the Mormons. As Whitney writes “Joseph Smith was a religious revolutionary and a controversial figure. Of all the things attributed to Joseph, polygamy is one of the most controversial. It is one of the most discussed issues in Mormon history and continues to be the center of on-going controversy and debate.”
I have written about this subject in the past, but I am the first to admit I have changed my views. When I first wrote about it in 2008 here and here, I echoed the orthodox response that the doctrine was revealed to Joseph as early as 1831, but not taught or practiced until later during the Nauvoo period. In 2009, I fully embraced the position of the LDS Church in this apologetic post, which is that Joseph taught and practiced polygamy, either secretly or with Emma’s knowledge. This is simply not true.
The LDS Narrative is Lacking
It wasn’t until 2015 that I began to suspect what I had been taught all my life about Joseph and polygamy may not have been entirely accurate. I listened to and reviewed a podcast that cast new light on the subject for me. Although it was not the first time I was introduced to the law of adoption and what Joseph was trying to accomplish, it clarified much for me on the subject. I have since written more about that here and here.
My purpose in sharing this is so that you may know I have some background on the subject of Whitney’s book. I must also confess up front that I agree with her thesis, which is found on page 9, “Joseph was adamant throughout his life that he was innocent of the charge of polygamy. If he was telling the truth, then this means that all people and religions, including the LDS Church, who teach that he practiced polygamy, polyandry, and pedophilia, are in error.” The LDS narrative is false, designed to prop up adultery.
“Polygamy, whether practiced in this life or the belief that it will be practiced in the next life, defiles the marriage covenant and breaks the hearts of wives and daughters. It was and is an abomination in the sight of God. Anyone who claims to believe in the Book of Mormon should condemn polygamy and denounce D&C 132. It is time for the LDS Church to come out from under the cloud of false belief. It is time to unequivocally condemn polygamy, past, present, and eternal. Joseph Smith would applaud such an announcement, ‘I have always had the satisfaction of seeing truth triumph over error, and darkness give way before the light.’” (pages 338-339)
Contents of the Book
The book is divided into seven parts. Be aware that “The Proof” referenced in the second part is not so much a rebuttal but a clarification of what is normally referenced by those espousing the traditional LDS position that Joseph taught and secretly practiced plural marriage or polygamy. As mentioned above, I thoroughly enjoyed Part 3 as I considered carefully the evidence that Joseph fought against polygamy as it crept into Nauvoo. If you have never read these statements or considered this position before I invite you to keep an open mind. There is a reason the LDS Church MUST have you believe Joseph taught and sanctioned polygamy. Please consider the alternate narrative Whitney presents.
Part 1: Who was Joseph Smith?
Part 2: The Truth behind the Proof
Part 3: Joseph Fought Polygamy
Part 4: Where did Polygamy Come From?
Part 5: Why Does it Matter?
Part 6: What was Joseph Really Doing?
Part 7: Joseph Smith & the Restoration
Joseph Taught Virtue and Morality
I have long known the official LDS History of the Church was doctored and created to promote the narrative that polygamy was commanded of God. It is amazing to read the actual record of Joseph on the Joseph Smith Paper’s Project website and then compare it to what we read in the History of the Church 6:46. It’s especially appalling to read the blatant modification of Joseph’s words in regard to polygamy dated 5 Oct 1843. If you have never considered these outrageous and egregious claims, you must read this book.
If you have read what I believe, you know I feel strongly that at least two sections of the Doctrine and Covenants were modified after they were received, particularly sections 110 and 132. Section 132 was not added to the D&C until long after Joseph’s death. It was placed there in the modified format we have today, to justify the immoral behavior of Brigham Young and others who disregarded Joseph’s imploring to abstain from the false spirit of polygamy. Brigham and John Taylor married their first plural wives in secret, in spite of Joseph teaching and urging the people to resist the spirit of polygamy in Nauvoo.
Joseph Innocent of False Charges
A good summary of section 3 can be found on page 230: “All of the Utah witnesses who claimed Joseph lived polygamy either secretly practiced it while in Nauvoo, or entered into polygamy after his death. Witnesses who professed Joseph’s guilt were either polygamy proponents, or married to one. Many of them desired acceptance of plural marriage as part of the original religion. Whenever a witness benefits from their testimony it should raise questions about the veracity of their statements.”
“If Joseph is guilty of polygamy then he is the worst kind of liar, deceiver, hypocrite, sexual deviant and adulterer and loses all credibility as a prophet of God. If, however, Joseph was telling the truth and is innocent of all charges, then he has been a victim of fraud and conspiracy. There is no viable evidence dated before his death on June 27, 1844 which proves Joseph was a polygamist. People who joined Joseph in publicly denouncing polygamy stated that Joseph never preached any such doctrine, in public or in private.” Nor did he practice it. He was the victim of liars at the highest levels.
Polygamy Did Not Come From Joseph Smith
Joseph Smith never received a revelation instituting the practice of plural marriage. D&C 132 is a copy of a copy which was cobbled together by men other than Joseph. Celestial Marriage is NOT polygamy. It is a marriage covenant between one man and one woman and God. It is necessary to enter into while in this life in order to inherit Eternal Life. Celestial Marriage is monogamous, it is never polygamous. Joseph was doing something he called sealings. These were NOT plural marriages and did not give him or anyone else rights to illicit sexual relations. Unfortunately, they were not understood by the people.
While in Nauvoo, Brigham Young, Orson Pratt, and others who believed in polygamy had been confused by “Celestial Marriage” and sealings. Brigham Young and Lorenzo Snow had become convinced through their own beliefs, which were contradictory to Joseph’s teachings, that polygamy was a higher, more correct form of marriage. This is NOT what Joseph taught. At the time of Joseph’s death on June 27, 1844, Brigham was publicly married to Mary Angell, and secretly married to Lucy Decker, Augusta Adams, Harriet Cook, and Clarissa Decker. Joseph did not teach or encourage these secret marriages.
Lying For The Lord About Polygamy
According to Sidney Rigdon, it was Brigham Young, John Taylor, and others of the twelve who were “lying for the Lord” regarding polygamy, and not Joseph. Brigham Young and John Taylor had been exposed to the idea of spiritual wives. They had taken plural wives without Joseph’s knowledge before the martyrdom. Joseph discovered their actions just days before, and advised William Marks they would need to take action soon that would reach to the highest levels of the church. Joseph’s death prevented this action. Can you see why it is imperative to the LDS narrative that we believe Joseph was not only teaching but secretly participating in polygamy? What a diabolical thing this really is.
“Brigham Young, John Taylor, Wilford Woodruff, and other men in top leadership positions in the LDS Church, had been secretly marrying plural wives without Joseph’s knowledge. According to William Marks and William Smith, Joseph had discovered Young’s, Richards’, and Taylor’s deception just weeks before his death. Joseph was preparing to bring charges against all those who were practicing polygamy and intended to preach against it from the stand, planning on eradicating polygamy once and for all from the Church. It must have been crushing to Joseph to discover that men he considered friends were engaged in an abominable practice, which he had condemned for years, and were claiming they were taught it by him.” (page 287)
What Was Joseph Really Doing?
Not long before his death, Joseph had begun sealing men as sons to himself in what he called the Law of Adoption. Young, by his own admission, did not understood much of what Joseph was doing: Celestial Marriage, adoption through marriage sealings, law of adoption sealings, how God’s government works, and the “keys” which Joseph and Hyrum held. Besides knowing and understanding little of what Joseph had been doing, Brigham’s views on women were in stark contrast to Joseph’s. Joseph held women, especially Emma, in high esteem. Joseph encouraged women to “live up to their privileges” so the angels would not be restrained from being their associates. Brigham, on the other hand, often spoke about women with disdain.
Joseph and Hyrum were sealing monogamous couples “for eternity” in what they termed “Celestial Marriage.” The Utah Mormon leaders, not understanding what Joseph and Hyrum were doing, misinterpreted and misapplied the sealing ordinance, and the term “Celestial Marriage,” turning them both into polygamy. They claimed that Joseph was the source of this teaching and practice, making him a liar and an adulterer. The scriptures give us an infallible litmus test, “by their fruits ye shall know them.” Therefore, it stands to reason that if a tree (Joseph) bears fruit, it cannot bear both bad fruit (polygamy, polyandry, and pedophilia) and good fruit (Book of Mormon, Doctrine and Covenants, Pearl of Great Price, Mormonism, and the Restoration). If Joseph was a liar and an adulterer then he could not have been God’s mouthpiece on the earth.
It Had Nothing To Do With Polygamy
Joseph was not a liar, nor was he an adulterer. Section 132 was not authored by him, or if it was, it was heavily edited and compromised by later revisionists with a need to justify the sin of immorality at the highest levels of the church. What Joseph taught uplifts and exalts. What Brigham instituted degrades and defiles. Joseph was involved in restoring all things necessary and critical for the return of the Lord. What Joseph was really doing with sealings and adoptions was cut short before it was fully explained. It was not understood by the saints, or even his closest associates, during Joseph’s lifetime and has not been preserved. Joseph was doing something far more important for the salvation of mankind than we can even begin to imagine, and it had nothing to do with polygamy.
God rules throughout Eternity in a family structure. The Kingdom of God is a family, not an institution. When Joseph Smith organized the LDS Church in his day, to pay respect to Jesus Christ, he patterned it after the New Testament Church. These church institutional organizations were merely representational of the structure of the Family of God, not the real thing. The real thing is the family of God. Joseph was given the sealing power, the authority and the ability to use the power to seal up, by using a covenant given to him by God. Joseph began around 1831 to restore God’s family on the earth through adoption of sons and daughters using the only ordinance available to him at that time, the marriage sealing. Joseph used the marriage ordinance to seal families to him, not for polygamy.
Sealings For Adoption, Not for Polygamy
After sealing the woman to himself, Joseph then sealed her to her husband or to her parents, thereby linking the entire group as an extended family of God with the expectation to continue on in eternal progression up the ladder of ascent into God’s presence. This sealing, or adoption, grafted the woman and all who were her family, through her sealing to Joseph, as a branch on God’s family tree. It was not a legal and lawful marriage, it was an innocent and holy sealing, an adoption with eternal ramifications. Joseph was literally sealing, or binding, the hearts of the “children” to the “Fathers in Heaven.” It was and is, pure and holy. There was nothing sexual about it.
We have got to get it out of our heads that a sealing, or adoption, such as this allows for conjugal rights. It does not and it never will. Joseph was simply using the only ordinance he had available at that time which allowed him to link the unredeemed and unexalted, to himself, an exalted man in the Kingdom and Family of God. Joseph, as the Patriarchal Father for a new branch of the Family of Israel, was tying together lines of what was to be a single, extended family. Joseph’s entire ministry was an attempt to teach his people to repent and rise up, to connect to the “living vine,” or Jesus Christ, who stands at the head of the Family of God. It is a travesty that Joseph was not allowed to finish his work.
Brigham Did Not Understand
“This is what Joseph was doing, sealing the living faithful to himself as a branch on God’s family tree. Joseph had sealed his heart to the Father’s in heaven, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and as a consequence their hearts had been sealed to him. Joseph then extended the blessings he received to those around him. He restored a covenant, through an ordinance, which allowed his righteous, repentant contemporaries to also belong to God. Joseph’s effort was never about having a multitude of sexual partners in order to propagate numerous posterity. It was never about lust and physical gratification. Joseph did not expect the wickedness which manifested itself in the hearts of men and women who assigned his pure actions to lustful motives.”
“Many took what Joseph was doing and turned it into their own adulterous relationships. Joseph is innocent of polygamy, both in this world and in the world to come. Joseph Smith was doing something that no one else understood or had the right to perpetuate. Brigham Young’s misguided efforts took Joseph’s sacred, private, carefully guarded practice of sealing the family of God to the Patriarchal Father, and sexualized it. Brigham turned it into a broadly advocated, openly practiced, publicly defended, and church authorized form of marriage which he claimed was required for exaltation. Brigham had no authority from God, or Joseph, to do so.”
“Joseph was allowed by God to seal righteous men and women to himself as his “many sons and daughters” in an attempt to restore God’s family as at first. Joseph used first the marriage sealing and then man-to-man sealings through the law of adoption. Joseph’s thoughts, words, and deeds were pure in heart. His life was taken before everything was restored as at the first. The truth about what Joseph was doing matters because there is work yet to be done, more yet to be restored. Adoption is part of the original gospel of Adam and will need to be restored again, as a rite with an accompanying authoritative ordinance and sealing, in order for the things which Joseph Smith alone understood and taught to be renewed.” (page 364)
I have quoted much from this book. I may not have attributed all with quotes as I should have. I totally agree with the concepts put forth by this book. It feels like an enlightened capstone to so much I have learned over the past seven years. I have focused much on the Law of Adoption in the past six months, studying and learning all I could. This book adds so much to that knowledge. I have not touched on the last section of the book that reviews Ascension Theology. I encourage you to purchase the book and read it, ponder it, pray about it. I have. It contains truth. Perhaps this book is one of the last things that is needed for people to completely rid themselves of the blood and sins of this generation.