After 200 years of lying about it, the Mormon Church is finally admitting that its founder Joseph Smith had forty wives. If the Church can change its official line on the man they consider to be their prophet, they can surely update their sexist policy barring women from becoming priests.
To clarify, the news isn’t that Smith was polygamous, but rather that the Mormon Church, also known as the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints or LDS, officially admitted to Smith’s so called “plural marriage” in an essay it released on its website:
In biblical times, the Lord commanded some of His people to practice plural marriage—the marriage of one man and more than one woman. Some early members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints also received and obeyed this commandment given through God’s prophets. After receiving a revelation commanding him to practice plural marriage, Joseph Smith married multiple wives and introduced the practice to close associates.
Most of those sealed [married] to Joseph Smith were between 20 and 40 years of age at the time of their sealing to him. The oldest, Fanny Young, was 56 years old. The youngest was Helen Mar Kimball, daughter of Joseph’s close friends Heber C. and Vilate Murray Kimball, who was sealed to Joseph several months before her 15th birthday. Marriage at such an age, inappropriate by today’s standards, was legal in that era, and some women married in their mid-teens. Helen Mar Kimball spoke of her sealing to Joseph as being “for eternity alone,” suggesting that the relationship did not involve sexual relations.
While some are congratulating the Church, the revelation is most likely a smart PR move and not indicative of a significant shift in doctrine. Even Elder Steven E. Snow, the church historian and a member of the leadership explained, “There is so much out there on the Internet that we felt we owed our members a safe place where they could go to get reliable, faith-promoting information that was true about some of these more difficult aspects of our history.” In other words, it was impossible to keep Smith’s polygamy a secret anymore.
But let’s give the LDS the benefit of the doubt. If they were able to evolve on the way they present the very founder of the church, surely they can evolve on the way the church treats women. After all they were able to change their position on Black people, who were barred from being ordained as priests until 1978.
And yet, not only does the Church continue to ban women priests, but, as we covered, in June it excommunicated Mormon Kate Kelly, the founder of the organization Ordain Women, for questioning her Church’s sexism. Kelly appealed the decision to the regional leadership of the LDS Church but recently found out it was denied. She has vowed to appeal to the worldwide leadership next. We’ll have to wait and see what happens. But if the Mormon Church is interested in evolving and not just saving face, they’ll have to come to terms with their own treatment of women — not just their founder’s.