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Is Polygamy a Ticket to Heaven?

Some Protestants, such as Born-Again Christians, believe that one can be saved in heaven—assured salvation.  Did early Mormons believe in something similar?  Was polygamy a ticket to heaven, not just for the man, but for his wives and children as well?  Dr. Bill Smith will talk about this in our next conversation.

Bill:  The idea is that the elite Mormon men, those with—maybe I should use the word assured salvation, like Joseph Smith, it was a great thing to be a child of somebody like that theoretically.  It was a great thing to be their child because as Joseph says, “On the other side of the veil, I will claim what I seal.”  In other words, anybody he is sealed to is guaranteed to go into heaven with him.  Because he is guaranteed in the revelation in fact that he’ll be going to heaven. So, this is important.  It’s an important story for important people.

That sounds doubly bad I guess in the present day.  It sounds sexist.  It sounds elitist, but in fact that’s the way it worked out.  A lot of people engaged in polygamy, a lot of women engaged in polygamy, not as many men of course, but it was really a story in terms of descendants, a story of elite Mormon men, because they are the ones that had 30 wives, or 15 wives, or 25 wives, or more.  Most of those men had children with most of those wives.

Dr. Smith talks about how the theology of assured salvation has changed over the years.  We will also talk about one of the major justifications of polygamy: raising seed.  If that was so important, why didn’t Joseph have children with wives other than Emma?

Bill:  I can’t really answer that except to say that the record on the ground seems to suggest that at least with some women, other than his wife, he was having sex. But I think it is impossible to argue beyond reminiscent accounts and that sort of thing, whether or not that was really going on.  I think it’s probably a sure thing that it did happen, but with who and how often?  That’s really hard to say.

Check out our conversation, along with our previous conversations about Emma Smith and Oliver Cowdery…..

 

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LDS Literacy of Biblical Polygamy

According to the Bible, King David and Solomon had hundreds of wives and concubines, yet the Book of Mormons condemns this practice.  How does this square with the polygamy revelation in Doctrine & Covenants 132?  Dr. Bill Smith will answer questions about Biblical polygamy in just a moment.

Bill:  Let me preface this by revealing to you something about how I think about scripture.  My personal point of view is really colored by what I’ve read or studied or worked through in terms of scholarship of the Bible.  I tend to trade on that in how I think about Mormon scripture.  The main point is this:  I think it’s a mistake to try to really seek for a continuity of narrative between how people did this 3,000 years ago, or how people thought about this 1,000 years ago or 2,000 years ago, or what the New Testament says about this or that.

I think that Joseph Smith saw a continuity.  He makes the Old Testament elites, he turns them all into Christians, which I think is utterly interesting, remarkable and strange.  There is a kind of hermeneutic that is kind of a conservative Protestant one that sort of fits in I think to how we, at least in the 20th century in the LDS Tradition have thought about scripture as being one continuous revelation.  It’s all really got to be reconciled as one thing.  I think that’s a mistake and not really justifiable historically.

We will also discuss how biblically literate Mormons are.

Bill:  One general authority wrote to the First Presidency about his experiences with missionaries, after he had toured some missions on the east coast and said, “We have got great missionaries with testimonies, but they just don’t know anything about religion.  It makes it very hard for them to interface with people who do, or who have experience in their own religions.  They need to know how to deal with such people, or at least have a knowledgebase from which to go.”  I think that’s kind of a controversial statement, but it is interesting that he thought we didn’t, or the missionaries didn’t have that.

GT:  Yes, to me that’s not very surprising, although I would say I guess in defense of Mormons, I do think that we have a better understanding of the Bible than a lot of Protestants do.

Bill: I think that’s absolutely true, especially post-missionary people.  You know you have to deal in the Bible because most of our missionaries go to Christian peoples, people who know about the New Testament, and at least through their churches or their ministers or preachers that they have heard.  They know passages of the New Testament.  They may have even been schooled in how to deal with Mormons.  All of that is biblical.

What do think?  Are LDS better or worse than Protestants or Catholics with regards to biblical literacy?  Who needs more improvement?

Don’t forget to check out part 1 of our conversation with Dr. Bill Smith!  Check out our conversation…..

Rachel and Leah, wives of Jacob/Israel

 

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How Lester Bush Debunked the Missouri Thesis

We’re continuing our conversation with Dr. Newell Bringhurst.  We will continue where we left off and explain in more detail the Missouri Thesis.

Newell:  The Missouri Thesis is the argument that the origins of black priesthood denial go back to the Mormon problems in Missouri.  Missouri is a slave state and the Latter-day Saints go into Jackson County in the early 1830s, 1831-1832.  Most of them are from the north, they are northerners.  They are basically Yankees, people from the northern states so immediately there is a system of tension of tension between the Mormons/Latter-day Saints with the people that are there, have come there from the south and settled Missouri.  A lot of people have brought their slaves and so on.  There aren’t a huge number of slaves in Missouri.  During the Civil War it was a border state, but there was enough slavery that it was a legal institution in Missouri.

The argument of the Missouri Thesis is the Mormons coming in tended to be anti-slavery because they were coming from the northern part of the country.  Those that were there that had migrated from the south were pro-slavery.  So the Mormons could see that this was a difficult situation.  To try to strengthen their position in Missouri, they saw Independence, [Missouri] as a center place for Zion.  That was where they were going to gather in the last days in the early revelations [in the Doctrine & Covenants.]  They saw Zion and Independence where that was going to be the final gathering place before the coming of the Millennium and the end times.  It was very important for the Mormons from that point of view.

So the argument is that Joseph Smith felt it necessary to accommodate the pro-slavery position and the anti-black position.  In order to accommodate that they were willing to—especially as it became more difficult during the course of the 1830s, they decided that they would deny blacks the priesthood.

Lester Bush’s groundbreaking article discounted the Missouri Thesis and connected the priesthood and temple ban to Brigham Young rather than Joseph Smith.

Then Lester Bush comes along.  He’s doing a lot more intense research than Taggart did.  Taggart’s research is not thorough. In the meantime Lester Bush has been working assiduously on his study of blacks in the church, and he has been asked to write a review of Taggart’s.  It turns out that it is a review essay published in Dialogue in 1970.  His review essay is longer and more thorough than Taggart’s original book.  That’s the upstart.  I’m sure you’re familiar with it.  You’ve probably read both side by side.  There’s no comparison with regards to the thoroughness and the rigor of the sources utilized and the way that it was written.

Then of course Bush comes along three years, four years later with his definitive Dialogue article, Mormonism’s Negro Policy[1] that is the classic—the first real legitimately scholarly examination of the issue, the path-breaking article that we all, those of us that came after him, owe him a lot for:  myself, Armand Mauss, and all those who came after me.

Bush’s article was cited by President Kimball as being highly influential as Kimball studied the roots of the ban.  We also discuss some prominent slaveholding LDS Church leaders.  Check out our conversation…..

[1] The article is titled Mormonism’s Negro Doctrine:  An Historical Overview, and found at https://www.dialoguejournal.com/2012/mormonisms-negro-doctrine-an-historical-overview/

Bush's Dialogue article refuting Missouri Thesis