I Walk Imperfectly


Sun 22 November 2015 |

A common, faithful response to a lot of difficult LDS church questions is to say "There are a lot of things that we do not currently understand. But someday we will."

I can see how this is helpful for people who have become aware of the serious problems with church doctrine and history, but remain committed to it. It's an incredibly difficult position to be in.

But while the "someday we'll understand" line may sometimes be effective as a salve you apply to yourself, I don't think it's helpful to tell others they should believe it. It doesn't actually resolve anything. It feels like blaming the victim, with its undertone of "if you were more faithful, this wouldn't bother you so much."

Though there are many unsettling things that I learned about the church, the one where I drew a firm line and said "No" was Joseph Smith's polyandry. I first read about it in Rough Stone Rolling. I went back and re-read the paragraphs several times. It was impossible to reconcile with the lessons in church about the importance of marriage and family. Incredulous denials rang in my head. "What?! Really?! What?!" It only got worse as I learned the particulars of his marriages to Marinda Hyde and especially Zina Jacobs.

Zina met and was courted by Henry B. Jacobs, a handsome and talented musician. Sometime during Henry’s courtship of Zina, Joseph Smith explained to Zina the “principle of plural marriage” and asked her to become one of his wives. Zina remembers the conflict she felt about Joseph’s proposal, and her budding relationship with Henry: “O dear Heaven, grant me wisdom! Help me to know the way. O Lord, my god, let thy will be done and with thine arm around about to guide, shield and direct...” Zina declined Joseph’s proposal and chose to marry Henry. They were married on March 7, 1841.

Zina later wrote, that within months of her marriage to Henry, “[Joseph] sent word to me by my brother, saying, ‘Tell Zina, I put it off and put it off till an angel with a drawn sword stood by me and told me if I did not establish that principle upon the earth I would lose my position and my life’”. Joseph further explained that, “the Lord had made it known to him she was to be his celestial wife.”

Zina chose to obey this commandment and married Joseph on October 27.

She was pregnant with Henry's baby at the time.

The story continues:

Over the next few years, Henry was sent on several missions to Chicago, Western New York and Tennessee. Henry missed his family and wrote home often. One of Henry’s missionary companions, John D. Lee, said, “Jacobs was bragging about his wife and two children, what a true, virtuous, lovely woman she was. He almost worshiped her...”.

Shortly after Joseph Smith’s death in 1844, Zina married Brigham Young. In May of 1846, Henry was sent on a mission to England. In Henry’s absence, Zina began to live openly as Brigham’s wife and remained so throughout her life in Utah. Henry seemed to struggle with this arrangement and later wrote to Zina, “...the same affection is there...But I feel alone...I do not Blame Eny person...may the Lord our Father bless Brother Brigham...all is right according to the Law of the Celestial Kingdom of our God Joseph.”

(From the Wives of Joseph Smith project.)

This brings up a lot of emotions for me. Heartbreak at the thought of the young Henry and Zina's marriage being torn apart by men they trusted as servants of God. Outrage at the thought anyone ever telling me, or my wife, that God had commanded her to be shared with another man. Heartbreak again at the fear that she might actually do it. Indignance at anyone who could defend this.

I'm willing to extend the faithful the benefit of the doubt when it comes to things that are truly mysterious. The interplay between the big bang, evolution, and the possibility of a creator leaves room for answers to come, someday. I have those questions myself. And though science doesn't leave much room for the kind of God worshipped in mormonism, I hold out hope that there is a loving creator with a plan for us, and a life after this one.

But some things are wrong. Always wrong. Obviously wrong, and not shrouded in mystery. God did not command Joseph to take other men's wives. There was no angel with a drawn sword. We do not need to wait for "someday" for God to make this clear. The conscience revolts against this idea for a reason. If you're a praying person, then prayer will confirm what your conscience already knows. This was wrong.

I'm not willing to give my entire life in dedication to a man who did things like this, waiting for the explanation that will make it all OK, "someday". I need to follow what's right today.

I know I sound strident. Angry even? Probably. I don't mean to take away the refuge of the well-intentioned faithful who are just trying to get by and stay sane. But I can't adopt their explanation as my own.