Evils of religion: How a sexual predator became a spiritual leader
While it was recently acknowledged by the LDS church that Joseph Smith did, indeed, practice and teach polygamy, less well known is his sordid sexual history.
Like nearly all charismatic cult leaders from Muhammed to Jim Jones to David Koresh, Smith (and his successor, Brigham Young) claimed it was “God’s will” for him to take the pretty daughters and wives of his followers for himself.
Ultimately he had 34 wives, some as young as 14. Eleven of them were already married to other husbands. If he were alive today, he would be a red dot on one of those ‘Sex Offenders in Your Neighborhood’ maps.
The record of Smith’s philandering stretches back to 1831. He had a ‘revelation’ in that year which should have been unnecessary, as it merely reaffirmed what the Bible already said. (Genesis 2:24; 1 Timothy 3:2)
"Thou shalt love thy wife with all thy heart, and shall cleave unto her and none else," he said. (D&C 42:22). “[A man] should have one wife, and they twain shall be one flesh.” (D&C 49:16)
“There was a good deal of scandal prevalent among a number of the Saints concerning Joseph's licentious conduct, this more especially among the women.”
Joseph and Emma Smith were boarding with the Johnson family of Kirtland, Ohio, when Joseph was attacked by a mob. Contrary to the official LDS version, this was not persecution from a bunch of Mormon-haters. It included outraged Mormons as well, and was led by the two Johnson brothers, incensed by Smith’s deflowering of their 16-year-old sister, Marinda. Smith was stripped naked and stretched out on a plank so that a Dr. Dennison could castrate him. But the doctor’s nerve failed and Smith was tarred and feathered instead. He was 26 at the time.
Having failed to learn to keep his libido in check, we next find Smith in trouble a couple years later over 16-year-old Fanny Alger. One of 11 children, Fanny was staying at the Smith home, helping Emma with housekeeping and babysitting when it became obvious she was pregnant. By one account,
“Emma was furious, and drove the girl, who was unable to conceal the consequences of her celestial relation with the prophet, out of her house.”
Some months earlier, Emma Smith had been searching for her husband one evening when through a crack in the barn door she saw "him and Fanny in the barn together alone" on the hay mow. Mormon Apostle William McLellin, in a letter to one of Smith's sons, added that the ensuing confrontation between Emma and her husband was so heated it required the intervention of Sidney Rigdon, Frederick G. Williams, and Oliver Cowdery. Finally Smith, according to McLellin, "confessed humbly, and begged forgiveness,” which Emma granted.
A few years later Cowdery, one of the “Three Witnesses” who swore on a stack of Bibles he’d seen the gold plates, accused Joseph Smith of adultery. He was promptly excommunicated. He was later readmitted, but he never recanted his accusation. In a letter to his brother Warren, he referred to Smith’s relationship with Fanny as “a dirty, nasty, filthy affair.”
Smith had married Emma when he was 22 and she 21. At the time of this second recorded affair Smith was 28 and Fanny was 15 or 16.
On at least four later occasions, Smith used the lame excuse that he’d had a vision of an angel with a sword threatening to kill him if some poor girl didn’t fall into bed with him. Zina Huntington was one of the girls who fell for that. She had been a foster daughter in Smith’s home in her late teens. At 20, when she was being courted by Henry Jacobs, Smith made it known he wanted her for himself. She married Jacobs, but Smith won her over with the angel-with-a-sword story, after which Jacobs was sent to New York and England on "missions for the church." Even after Smith died, Jacobs was kept out of the way, and Zina became a plural wife of Brigham Young.
By 1843 Smith’s gullible wives and followers had bought the whole ‘God loves polygamy’ doctrine. He convinced Apostle Heber Kimball to give Smith his only daughter, 14-year-old Helen Mar Kimball. In her own words,
“My father had but one Ewe Lamb, but willingly laid her upon the alter.”
Mormons will argue that the marriage was “dynastic” rather than sexual, that is, its purpose was to tie the Kimball family to the Smith dynasty. But even while there is no proof one way or the other whether Smith had sex with the child, it’s still outrageous that a 14-year-old girl should be used in such a fashion by her father and Smith, who was 37 when this happened. Most would call that abuse.
Just in case you are thinking, ‘Maybe women married earlier in the 1800s,’ let me disabuse you of that idea right now: While there was no age-of-consent law then, a study of marriage records from the 1800s puts the average age of the first marriage of women in the U.S. at nineteen years and six months. And for the past century, women have been maturing earlier, not later.
Learning about Zina Huntington and Helen Mar Kimball was enough to bring at least one Mormon to his senses:
“I had to ask myself the following questions: "Is it reasonable to assume that a kind, just, loving, moral God has such blatant disregard for the sanctity of marriage (and life itself) that He would have his humble servant slain for refusing to take another man’s wife as his own? Or, is it more likely that a mortal man lied?"
The answer to his question is obvious. How could any reasonable Christian believe plural marriage was a spiritual revelation, rather than seeing it for what it actually was - the smarmy excuse of a pedophile? If plural marriage was God’s plan, why would he tell Smith to keep it secret? Jesus’ direction to his first century apostles was that, even though their message was unpopular, they were to ‘preach it from the housetops!’ (Matthew 10:27) If plural marriage was God’s plan, why did the Mormon Church abandon it in 1890, just when governments started making laws banning the practice? Since when does God allow himself to be dictated to by the Supreme Court?
In 1844 a group of devout Mormons grew disgusted with Smith’s plural marriage ideas, as well as his business practices, and they started their own sect of Mormonism. They set up a newspaper called the Nauvoo Expositor. Its first and only issue came out June 7, 1844, detailing some of Smith’s fornications as well as his bank and real estate swindles. Smith declared them apostates and had the press destroyed and the building burned.
In the next part of this series, we’ll take a closer look at some of those objectionable business dealings, as well as the thugs he used to enforce his will, the “Danites.”