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Brian Hale is the LDS Church's leading apologist when it comes to Mormon polygamy.
He has done a considerable amount of research on the subject and has produced three volumes in which he delves into pretty much every aspect of it. Dr. Hales has discovered historical documents and factual information that contributes a great deal to the discussion of the origins and practices of Mormon polygamy.
But Hales is guilty of confirmation bias and openly admits that a specific agenda drive his writings. However, I find his style non-confrontational and his demeanor pleasant and, with rare exceptions, respectful toward critics of the Church's dominant narrative. And while this is not the proper forum for a thorough analysis and critique of his wordy writings or what I find to be his peculiar interpretations of the data he presents, nevertheless, I would like to comment on a recent interview that he and his late wife Laura had with Daniel Peterson on an LDS Perspectives podcast.
For an excellent discussion of Hales apologetics, I would recommend Dan Vogel's outstanding scholarship and writings.
This taped discussion is the typical Mormon, highly scripted 'softball' interview, and while both he and his 'interviewer' - Dan Peterson, are preaching to the choir, it still shines a light on Hales' modus operandi.
The first question Peterson asks is, "Did Joseph Smith introduce plural marriage in order to expand his sexual opportunities?" Not surprisingly, Hales does not reply as I would, "Of course." Instead, he states. "... it is important for us who believe to understand what Joseph taught." "The first thing he taught was that it [polygamy] was a special trial for the membership…"
This is not an unwarranted conclusion. Joseph did make a comment to that effect; however, there is not much beyond that one comment. I don't wish to be unkind to Brian Hales, but he tends to tell us what conclusions we should come to based solely on the selective evidence he produces and presents. I would submit that a reasonable person might draw quite a different conclusion based on a different interpretation of the same facts.
I find no compelling evidence of Hales' supposition that polygamy stood as an Abrahamic test for the Saints or that Smith actually taught it - not just mentioned it, but actually taught it. If Dr. Hales has a primary source beyond Joseph's offhand comment so indicating, it would have been nice if he had shared it. He goes on to suggest that the second reason for polygamy was the restitution of all things, as spoken of in Acts 3:19–21. Here Hales is on the mark and makes a valid point, and indeed, Joseph spoke to it. But the restoration of what exactly?
A recent Gospel Doctrine manual states that the words "all things" refer to the 'laws and ordinances of the gospel." Was polygamy then an ancient law or ordinance? According to Gordon B. Hinckley, it was neither a law nor an ordinance; in fact, it wasn't even doctrinal. I have discovered only one instant in the New Testament (Corinthians 7:12) where it can be argued that polygamy may be sanctioned. I think the Old Testament shows that polygamy was permitted for cultural reasons but was not commanded by God. I think we need to be careful not to believe that as the Bible speaks of polygamy, this equates to God's approval of it. I think Genesis clearly shows God's intent was for marriage to be monogamous—one man for one woman. God gave Adam "a helper," not several helpers. A man would leave his family to "be joined to his wife," not wives. This special union is described as becoming "one flesh," not a "fleshpot."
The first reference to polygamy is in Genesis, where Lamech, a descendant of Cain and a murderer, takes two wives. After the Flood, there are many mentions of polygamous relationships—including among the patriarchs of Israel. Jacob, Abraham, David, and Solomon, all of whom had several wives. I have not been able to locate any passages in scripture forbidding polygamy, but often polygamous relationships are mentioned negatively; in fact, the problems of such relationships are often highlighted.
There are several passages in the New Testament that speak against the practice of polygamy. The relationship between husband and wife is compared to that of Christ and the Church. In Ephesians 5:25–33, Paul speaks about this unique relationship and refers back to Genesis. Once again, God's standard for marriage is defined as one man and one woman. Paul states, "let each one of you in particular so love his own wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband."
The third reason Hales states for polygamy is, "to multiply and replenish the earth." He says, "having children with his polygamist wives was one of the reasons. It wasn't the most important one, and we would probably be wise to point out that the evidence does not show that Joseph was having a lot of sexual relations with his plural wives."
Hales again fails to elaborate on the evidence he speaks of showing Smith was not having a 'lot of sexual relations with his plural wives.' What exactly would such negative evidence look like? Doing it in the street? And what does Hales consider, 'a lot of sex?' Once a month, once a week, six times a day? It seems Hales bases this conclusion mainly on the fact that DNA studies have yet to show offspring resulting from Smith's marriages. The implication being - no prodigy, no sex. This is absurd, of course. Jim Jones, the cult leader who led 912 of his followers to mass suicide in Guyana in 1978, routinely had sex with his flock – male and female. Indeed, many of his followers felt it was a 'privilege' to engage in sex with him, yet we find just one offspring.
Hales further states that "Many other reasons and evidences (sic) and observations indicate that sexuality was not a common occurrence." Unless this is an example of, 'just trust me, I'm a doctor?' please be so kind as to share with us the 'many other reasons and evidence and observations,' you speak of Brian? I would submit that this is another example of Hales throwing out unwarranted and unsupported conclusions. I believe any reasonable person would infer from Smith's behavior and several of his 'brides' statements that sex was undoubtedly a part of, if not Smith's primary motivation.
The interview then discussed the accusation that Joseph Smith was a pedophile. All agree, as do I, that pedophilia has to do with an interest in prepubescent children. I would also concede that there is no evidence showing that Joseph had a sexual interest in children. Having said that, legal definitions of pedophilia also speak about sex with children - "an interest in or sexual interaction with prepubescent children."
As my detailed analysis in my 'A Letter to an Apostle' shows, even using FairMormon's statistics on the age of menarche in 1843 and using the standard deviations they present, there is a 60% chance Helen Kimball, his youngest wife, was prepubescent. Hales, his wife, and Peterson in a grand display of discounting, another technique found in his writing, skips over the inappropriateness and immorality of a 37-year-old man marrying a 14-year-old girl with the comment, "A sealing or a marriage to a 14-year-old would have been a little out of the norm, but it wasn't that abnormal."
This is demonstrably false. I have shown in my research that it was so abnormal that the Smith/Kimball' marriage' was likely the only such 37/14 cohort in the entire State and perhaps the two adjourning states that year. Peterson then chirps in, "It's the problem, isn't it, of presentism, that we look at these things, and we think, "14, that's shocking." and Brian replies, "It's eyebrow-raising." But, maybe it wasn't scandalous then. It would be a little on the young side, but not unheard of." 'A little on the young side;' notice that there is no mention of Smith's age - 37. Maybe a 21-year-old man marrying a 14-year-old girl was 'eyebrow-raising' in 1843. Still, it was another thing when a portly middle-aged man did so, even ignoring the fact that what Smith and Kimball entered into what was no more marriage in the eyes of the law than Warren Jeffs's recent marriages to his child brides. Bigamy was just as illegal then as it is now and likely far less acceptable to the good people of 19th-century Illinois than it would be today.
In today's environment where men of power, wealth and celebrity are using their power to abuse, harass and harm women, I think it is unbecoming, almost bordering on rape apology, to discount or rationalize away the significance of Smith's 'relationships' with young girls and women as Hales, his wife and Peterson do. Also, Hales inserts 'facts,' not likely to be questioned by TBMs casually reading or listening to his work. When speaking about the legality of marrying someone who is 14 years of age, he suggests that it is legal "...in many countries now even without a parent's permission." Yes, in the Cameroons 12 is just fine but what the hell has that got to do with anything? As well, Hales' statement that "even of our time right now if you have a parent's permission..." is misleading. He would have us believe that in our country today, with a parent's permission, it is just fine for a 14-year-old to wed. It's not. In the United States today, the minimum age of consent is 16 years of age or older in every State in the union, with only four of the fifty allowing those under 15 to marry with parental consent. California, Mississippi, Massachusetts, and New Hampshire.
Let's also not forget Smith was not ever legally married to anybody except Emma, and by the laws of every State, then and now, there is no age of consent for a 37-year-old man to have sexual intercourse with a 14-year-old-year-old girl, with or without her parent's consent whether he calls it 'celestial marriage' or a 'Klingon union,' Again, Hales chooses to believe that Smith's relationship with Helen Kimball did not involve sex even though we have this statement from acquaintances such as the following: "I would never have been sealed to Joseph had I known it was anything more than ceremony. I was young, and they deceived me, by saying the salvation of our whole family depended on it." 1 Hale makes the point that Helen still went to dances as if that is prima facie evidence that she wasn't having sex with Joseph. Are sex and dancing mutually exclusive in brother Hale's world?
We know that none of Joseph Smith's marriages involved him living with or maintaining his wives financially. We also know with greater certainty that he had sex with other teenage girls he 'married' who lived otherwise normal lives. They all went about their daily lives except when Smith called upon them for sex. Hales does not present any evidence showing how or why this pattern was disrupted in the case of Helen. Hales also throws in that "in Utah then, (actually speaking of years later) there was a policy to not consummate marriages to the younger wives until they had hit like 18 years of age or 19." Even if there was any evidence of this 'policy,' it is irrelevant and immaterial. We are talking about Joseph Smith in Illinois, not Brigham and the boys in Utah. That is a whole other story and often just as dark. I will stipulate that there is little evidence that Smith sent men on missions just to have sex with their wives, although I do not accept Hales' comment that "the sealings were all what (sic) we call 'eternity only.'" As well, Hales' definition of sexual polyandry is stringent. In his view, even if a woman's legal marriage was superseded by her religious marriage to a second man, that would not, according to Hales, constitute "polyandry."
There is solid evidence that Smith had sex with at least three of his polyandrous wives. Hales himself reports a deathbed confession in 1882, in which Sylvia Sessions Lyon told her daughter Josephine, who had been born in 1844, that Joseph Smith was her father: "She told me then that I was the daughter of the Prophet Joseph Smith, she having been sealed to the Prophet at the time her husband Mr. Lyon was out of fellowship with the Church." 2 Mary Elizabeth Rollins Lightner, another of Joseph's polyandrous wives, gave a signed statement in 1902 affirming that in February 1842, Brigham Young had sealed her to Joseph "for time and all eternity." 3 And in her autobiography, Zina Diantha Huntington Jacobs writes, "I made a greater sacrifice than to give my life, for I never anticipated again to be looked upon as an honorable woman by those I dearly loved." Surely this "sacrifice" implies sexual relations with Smith.4
Finally, Laura Hales broached Emma's knowledge of Joseph's polygamous relationship, stating, "We actually don't know when Emma found out about polygamy. We know for sure that she didn't know about two marriages, and we can make educated guesses by other documents — that she didn't know about some other marriages." "But by May 1843, she knew about plural marriage, and she was temporarily supportive of it. By that time, Joseph had been married to quite a few women, most of them for eternity only." I dispute that "most were for eternity only." Where is the evidence for that statement?
The three conclude the interview by clucking about how nobody is perfect. "We also know that prophets aren't perfect. They make mistakes. It doesn't mean that they can't necessarily lead the Church and receive revelation. If we put a prophet on a pedestal and say, "He has to be perfect," I think we'll be disappointed every time." Sure, the followers of the Prophet Warren Jeffs might likewise contend that having sex with his 14-year-old brides was illegal, but like the Hales' say, "prophets are not perfect," give the guy a break.
1 Polygamy: A History, by LDS member Richard S. van Wagoner, p. 53
2 Hales, Joseph Smith's Polygamy, 1:349-54
3 Hales, Joseph Smith's Polygamy, 1:265.
4 Zina Young, in her autobiography "Biographical Sketch," quoted in Compton, In Sacred Loneliness, 81.