Whose story is it? Part 2

There are many Brighamite apologists that have been stirred into responding to the growing chorus of researchers who now realize teaching plural wives did not begin with Joseph Smith. The Brighamite apologists think that the history, as they recount it, makes the matter clear that it was Joseph, and not a cabal of Brigham Young, Heber Kimball, Wilford Woodruff, and others (including William Clayton the journalist) who conspired to point the finger at Joseph, while Joseph was an opponent of their sinful, illegal and immoral conduct.

There is a bit of a tempest currently underway on YouTube, various podcasts, and discussion boards both damning and defending Joseph Smith over these false charges. This ugly subject is part of the story of Joseph Smith, and therefore we should try to get it right.

I’ve read the biographies and autobiographies of the earliest Latter-day Saint leaders. I’ve also read the many histories addressing this subject, from D. Michael Quinn to Todd Compton to Jerald and Sandra Tanner. I’ve read all volumes of Brian Hales account, and visited his website. I’ve listened to the conferences, seminars, symposiums and presentations that dispute what the Brighamite apologists call derisively “polygamy deniers.” I have read every volume of the Joseph Smith Papers publication, including all the Historical Introductions and footnotes. To the extent that material is available to investigate the events, I have sought it out and evaluated it.

For decades I too believed Joseph Smith initiated the taking of plural wives. I think that is far from being proven to be true, and on balance it appears that Joseph Smith was not only opposed to this adulterous foolishness, but that he took great effort to make his opposition known to the Latter-day Saints. He helped his wife, Emma, publish an extensive public opposing tract titled The Voice of Innocence from Nauvoo. Joseph Smith brought church court proceedings to expose those who were involved, to try to root it out from Nauvoo. (I own a copy of the Nauvoo City and High Council Minutes and I’ve read them all.)

Many of the current Brighamite apologists rely on histories and biographies that are not informed by the extensive historical material that has become available in the last 20 years. They assume, arrogantly and wrongly, that Joseph Smith’s responsibility has been “proven” and cannot be questioned. They’re wrong.

This issue is not going to be swept aside by the dismissive Brighamite apologists. In fact, the defenders of Joseph Smith’s character are just getting started. In the next few years an extensive library of every relevant source will be gathered and published to allow easy access to the historical materials that bear on this controversy.

Listening to the Brighamite apologists cite to John C. Bennett makes me wonder why they would ever mention the man. Should John C. Bennett get to tell part of Joseph Smith’s story? Get to be believed in anything he has to say about Joseph?

Bennett was married, abandoned his wife and children, and pretended to be an unmarried single man when he came to Illinois to help the bedraggled Latter-day Saints, who had just been forcibly expelled from Missouri. He helped usher the Nauvoo City Charter through the Illinois Legislature. He earned the gratitude of the Nauvoo people for his efforts on their behalf.

However, Bennett claimed everything he did for Nauvoo and the Latter-day Saints was done as an elaborate deception on his part. In his book, The History of the Saints or, An Expose’ of Joe Smith and Mormonism (I own a copy and have read it) he claims:

I find that it is almost universally the opinion of those who have heard of me in the eastern part of the United States, that I united myself to the Mormons from a conviction of the truth of their doctrines, and that I was, at least for some time, a convert to their pretended religion. This, however, is a very gross error. I never believed in them or their doctrines. This is, and indeed was, from the first, well known to my friends and acquaintances in the western country, who were well aware of my reasons for connecting myself with the Prophet; which reasons I will now proceed to state.It at length occurred to me that the surest and speediest way to overthrow the Imposter, and expose his iniquity to the world, would be to profess myself a convert to his doctrines, and join him at the seat of his dominion. …and that the course I was resolved to pursue would enable me to get behind the curtain, and behold at my leisure, the secret wires of the fabric, and likewise those who moved them. …I was obliged to make a pretence of belief in their religion does not alter the case. That pretence was unavoidable in the part I was acting, and it should not be condemned like a hypocrisy towards a Christian church. (Emphasis in original, spelling as original.)

So (according to him) he was a liar, but only to the “Mormons” and not to good Christian folks.

In the Times and Seasons, June 15, 1842 edition (I own all 6 hardbound volumes of the paper and have read them all) this announcement was made: “NOTICE The subscribers, members of the First Presidency of the church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, withdraw the hand of fellowship from General John C. Bennett, as a christian he having been labored with from time to time to persuade him to amend his conduct, apparently to no good effect. Joseph Smith, Hyrum Smith, Wm. Law” which is then concurred in by the Twelve and three Bishops.

William Law (also one who is frequently cited by Brighamite apologists) added in his article in that same edition titled MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING, this: “when the wicked creep in amongst us for evil, to trample upon the most holy and virtuous precepts, and find our moral and religious laws too strict for them, they cry out delusion, false prophets, speculation, oppression, illegal ordinances, usurpation of power, treason against the government, etc. …You have dared to pass an ordinance against fornicators, and adulterers[.]”

(William Law was a secret adulterer, and Joseph Smith would refuse to seal his marriage because of his adultery. But that’s another matter.) Here, he notes that the Nauvoo City Council with Joseph Smith’s encouragement and support passed an ordinance prohibiting and criminalizing fornication and adultery. What an odd thing to do if you are secretly up to it! Who criminalizes their own behavior?!

John C. Bennett signed an affidavit under a sworn oath to tell the truth, that stated: “he never was taught any thing in the least contrary to the strictest principles of the Gospel, or of virtue, or of the laws of God, or man, under any circumstances, or upon any occasion, directly or indirectly, in word or deed, by Joseph Smith; and that he never knew the said Smith to countenance any improper conduct whatever, either in public or private; and that he never did teach to me in private that an illegal illicit intercourse with females was, under any circumstances, justifiable, and that I never knew him so to teach others.”

Then 14 men recount this exchange between John C. Bennett and Joseph Smith in a Nauvoo City Council meeting: “Joseph Smith then asked: Will you please state definitely whether you know any thing against my character either in public or private?” “Gen. Bennett answered: I do not; in all my intercourse with Gen. Smith, in public and in private, he has been strictly virtuous.”

Assuming the Brighamite apologists want to use Bennett to tell part of Joseph Smith’s story, why not include his statement under oath that Bennett never knew Joseph Smith to countenance any improper conduct whatever, in public or private? Why not include that Bennett swore under oath that Joseph Smith never did teach him or any others in private that illegal illicit intercourse with females was under any circumstances justifiable?

I’m guessing the answer is: It would make Brigham Young responsible for introducing it and falsely attributing it to Joseph Smith. And the Brighamite apologists are not content to just damn Brigham Young. They absolutely insist on lumping Joseph Smith in with Brigham Young. Even though Brigham Young fathered 56 children with 16 of his wives, and Joseph Smith fathered 9 children only with his one wife, Emma Smith.

Even if you reject the role of Joseph Smith as God’s prophet, you still ought to be willing to allow him the privilege of telling his own story. Supplement it, challenge it, or reject it, but at least let him tell it. When he does, he defended virtue, showed tolerance and kindness to his enemies, bore with insults, false accusations, imprisonment and ultimately his murder for what he believed and taught. I wrote A Man Without Doubt to help others understand his heart and mind.

Who owns the story of Joseph Smith?