I’m not sure if it’s dramatic irony or religious truth, but some of the very principals and teachings that I learned as a Mormon are the ones that led me out of it.
I grew up hearing stories of historical figures such as Martin Harris, Heber C Kimball, Thomas Marsh and William Law. The first two, Harris and Kimball, are well known in Mormonism for placing what they considered religious truth above the concerns of their wives and family.
Harris and his wife separated and divorced because of their disagreement over the legitimacy of Joseph Smith and the “Golden Plates.” Harris had even mortgaged his family farm to help Smith publish the Book of Mormon putting his wife into financial hardship. As such, Harris is held up as a faithful hero in Priesthood, Sunday School and Seminary lessons. Not once had I ever heard even the slightest twinge of questioning whether leaving his family behind to follow Joseph Smith or for his understanding of the truth was the right thing to do.
After all, Joseph Smith himself had eloped with his first wife, Emma, against the wishes of her father. From the beginning, “Family First” was not the expectation or the example from Mormon leaders.
A less well-known historical incident involved Heber C Kimball, his wife Vilate, and their daughter Helen Mar Kimball. Joseph Smith had approached Heber at two different times to hand over these two women to him as his plural wives. In the case of Heber’s wife Vilate, after 3 days agonizing over the decision Heber agreed to give his wife to Joseph. Heber is even praised in Mormon folklore for passing Joseph’s Abrahamic-like test because in the end, that’s all it was…just a godly test to see if Heber would give his wife to the prophet…and what an honorable man that he would…just like Abraham would kill his son for God.
Heber’s young daughter, Helen, didn’t fare so well. At the age of 14 Helen had a little father-daughter chat with her Dad. At this time Heber described the doctrine of plural marriage to his little girl and explained that the 33 year old Joseph Smith wanted her as one of his many wives. Helen was shocked but eventually was persuaded by her father and Smith to seal the deal in order to ensure her family’s eternal salvation. Yup, another sacrifice in the Kimball family. Only this time no one backed out and was told, “just kidding!”
The lesson I remember hearing from these historical lessons was that truth and unwavering faith and obedience should trump any spousal, patriarchal, or fraternal relationship.The year I taught Church History in Early Morning Seminary the manuals definitely portrayed Harris, Kimball and his wife and daughters as heroes and Harris’ wife Lucy as a villian.
Further solidifying that impression are the stories of Thomas Marsh and William Law. These are the bad guys in Mormon history because their faith and obedience didn’t match that of Harris’ and Kimball’s. Marsh and Law instead placed their wives ahead of their obedience to Joseph Smith and Mormonism. They stood by their women and are vilified constantly in lesson manuals and talks at Mormon meetings.
Thomas Marsh’s story as told by the Mormons isn’t completely accurate but for the purpose of this blog post let’s assume it is for this is what Mormons teach. As the story goes, Marsh’s wife and another woman bickered over a milk cow and Marsh’s wife was accused of lying. The disagreement escalated to a church court and Thomas defended his wife’s character. This sort of dogged defense of his wife over the findings of the church leadership eventually led to Marsh’s excommunication and disaffection with the early church. The moral of the story is again that obedience and faith should supersede devotion to one’s family.
Likewise William Law holds a prominent place in LDS folklore as the apostate who turned on Joseph Smith and published the short-lived Nauvoo Expositor. It was this first and only publication that eventually led to Joseph Smith’s imprisonment and death. But what isn’t often mentioned is that William Law primarily turned against Joseph Smith after the latter had approached William’s wife Jane for the same reason Smith had approached Vilate and Helen Kimball and several other females in the community. Joseph wanted just “half her love” according to Jane. He was kind enough to allow her to still give the other half to her husband William.
Only this time, William Law stood by his wife. Law’s downfall in Mormon folklore was because he was just an angry apostate who published lies about the prophet. The truth is that he opposed the sexual advances of the Mormon leadership on his wife and other women in the community.
Again, not once in all my years of church membership did I ever hear that Harris and Kimball were wrong for sacrificing their families for the church. Instead, they are heroes. Likewise, not once did I ever hear Marsh or Law praised for standing by their wives and refusing to allow them to be dishonorably used by Mormon leaders.
Fast forward to seven years ago when I was just starting to compare and contrast what I had taught, what I had been taught with what was the truth and guess what was the one argument constantly thrown at me by my own wife, by church leaders, and by family members…Stand by your woman!
If I doubted, even if I knew the LDS Church wasn’t true how could I leave it against my own wife’s wishes?! At the very least I should suck it up for her , for my kids.
Do these people even listen to their own church lessons and talks?
To the contrary, it’s actually for the love I have for my 3 daughters that I did leave. No matter how far in the past those events occurred or how different a time it was, Joseph Smith’s polyandry and polygamy behind his first wife’s back is a disgrace to women. Today’s very passive dismissal of those women’s sacrifices and lives speak volumes of the immorality inherent in today’s LDS culture, doctrine and practice.
As a father I honor William Law for his courage to speak out and I find Heber C. Kimball’s behavior especially repulsive. I stand by my 3 little women and say, it was wrong and it is wrong.
Questions for further discussion (Suggestions for Family Home Evening) :
Sisters: What would you say if the current LDS prophet came to you in secret telling you that God had instructed him to take you as a plural wife?
Brethren:What would you say if the current LDS prophet came to you in secret telling you that God had instructed him to take your wife to be sealed to him for eternity? What if it was your 14 year old daughter?
All:What would you do if the voice of God came to you inside your head telling you to sacrifice (kill) your own son or daughter for him?
How is Abraham any different than Andrea Yates?
Jane Law, Vilate Kimball, Helen Mar Kimball and dozens of other women didn’t think it could/would ever happen to them. What makes you think you’re any different?
Ever hear of Henry Jacob or his wife Zina Diantha Huntington? Research their experience and discuss as a family.