All right, class. Come to attention. Today's post features Eags' consideration of the early leaders of the LDS Church Joseph Smith and Bring 'Em Young. Both men married multiple times: Smith with 40 wives and Young with 50. However, a husband with plural wives is misidentified in this essay (and most elsewhere that this marital phenomenon is mentioned). The erroneous reference to a husband with plural wives is polygamy. This term refers to plural marriage partners without regard to sex. Thus polygamy might refer to multiple husbands married to a single wife as well as multiple wives nagging a single husband. However, there is a term for the plural husband marital arrangement: polyandry. And the correct term for the Joesph Smith model of marital bliss is polygyny. The terms are not interchangeable. A dog is not a cat and polyandry, polygyny, and polygamy are not linguistically the same practices. In the meantime, this blog refers to the Dumbo presidential nominee of 2012 as Big Love. That is because that boy is descended from lusty polygynists who fled from Utah to exile in Mexico to avoid prosecution when plural wives were outlawed in Utah. In any event Joseph Smith was the original Big Love and Bring 'Em Young was Smith's lusty successor. Today's LDS Church leadership has come clean about Smith; Big Love needs to come clean about his own family history. If this is (fair & balanced) crackpottery, so be it.
[x NY Fishwrap]
Sex And The Saints
By Timothy Egan
Tag Cloud of the following piece of writing
When ushered into the master bedroom of the Mormon patriarch Brigham Young at his winter home in St. George, Utah, a few years ago, I felt duty-bound to ask an obvious question: Where did the other women sleep?
Other women? The church tour guide blushed, and laser-stared me as if I’d blasphemed the Mormon Moses. I wondered about arrangements and jealousies, the conjugal timing of a man who was married to 55 women, by most accounts. I didn’t ask about the sexual acrobatics of the great pioneer, just the spreadsheet logistics of managing all those spouses.
All religions undergo historical face lifts. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, as one of the few faiths subject to modern fact-checking, has had a particularly hard time reconciling its radical founding principles with its white-bread contemporary image. Imagine Mitt Romney with a harem, and you have some idea of the kind of men who planted a new church in the West.
So, it’s been fascinating to watch the reaction to the acknowledgment last month by Mormon leaders that Joseph Smith, the church’s founder and prophet, took as many as 40 wives. Some of the women were also married to other men. One of his brides was a 14-year-old girl, or as church officials put it in an essay, she was “sealed” to Smith “several months before her 15th birthday.” Well, that changes everything.
Smith was a man of God, no doubt. But he was also a man, with considerable appetites. In his defense, he came to his decision only under duress, the church explained: a sword-wielding angel forced him to take up a life of sanctioned promiscuity. That cherub, it should be noted, bears little resemblance to the guardian angel that kept many a Catholic boy from going beyond a first kiss.
The new Joseph Smith is much harder to explain than the man embodied in the statue in Temple Square in Salt Lake City. There, he’s seen holding hands with his long-suffering first wife, Emma, as she gazes upward at him, Nancy Reagan style.
And there was a creepy grooming aspect in how the Mormon founder picked his brides. Mary Elizabeth Rollins was 12 years old when Smith told her that God had commanded him to take her as a plural wife, according to the author Linda King Newell. She later married him at 23, wife No. 9.
How is Smith’s behavior, some Mormons have asked, any different from that of the crazed religious zealot who kidnapped 14-year-old Elizabeth Smart in 2002 and forced her to have sex with him? Both men say they were commanded by God.
Kristy Money, a psychologist who works with sex offenders and is a Mormon in good standing, applauded church authorities for their transparency in coming clean on Smith. But she criticized the men who guide the faith for not condemning the founder’s behavior. At the very least, she wrote in The Salt Lake Tribune, the church should make it clear that religious leaders cannot have sex with young girls just because an angel told them it was O.K. to do so.
“If you keep the assertion that polygamy [sic] was God’s will and Joseph didn’t err, consider adding a warning that God cannot command a man (even a priesthood leader) to have sex with someone today,” Dr. Money wrote.
Considering that it took the Mormon Church more than a century to acknowledge what scholars have long known to be true, it may take another hundred years for the elders in Salt Lake City to proclaim that the prophet, seer, revelator and founder of their religion was the kind of guy who would have to register with the police today before moving into a neighborhood.
Still, for all its painful equivocating, the Mormon Church has done a fine thing in opening up about its past. For too long, the Mormons have tried to airbrush an extraordinary chapter in the history of the American West. Here was a sect, though persecuted and ridiculed, determined to institutionalize in the New World something that Islamic patriarchs and Old Testament graybeards practiced in the old.
Sir Richard Burton, the 19th-century sex enthusiast, traveled to the Great Basin to witness this experiment in the Americas. Mark Twain, after visiting the social frontier of the Mormon kingdom, called it “a fairyland to us, for all intents and purposes — a land of enchantment and awful mystery.”
Remember when Mitt Romney tried to explain how his ancestors came from Mexico? As if they were just another Latino family crawling across the Rio Grande? In fact, they were sexual fugitives, those elder Romneys, fugitives because they wanted to live as Joseph Smith and Brigham Young had lived. To see them for what they were does not necessarily diminish them. It just makes them human — the hardest thing for any religion to accept. Ω
[Timothy Egan writes "Outposts," a column at the NY Fishwrap online. Egan — winner of both a Pulitzer Prize in 2001 as a member of a team of reporters who wrote the series "How Race Is Lived in America" and a National Book Award (The Worst Hard Time in 2006) — graduated from the University of Washington with a degree in journalism, and was awarded an honorary doctorate of humane letters by Whitman College in 2000 for his environmental writings. Egan's most recent book is The Big Burn: Teddy Roosevelt and the Fire that Saved America (2009).]
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