Does Smith’s use of Coercive Stratagems to get Girls and Women to ‘Marry’ and/or Sleep with Him Show a Lack of Character or even Common Decency?
The brother of Almira Johnson describes how Joseph sought his sister as a wife: “almost ready to burst with emotion,”looked his friend in the eye and said, “Brother Joseph This is Something I did not Expect and do not understand it. You know whether it is Right. I do not. I want to do just as you tell me and I will try. But if I ever Should know that you do this to Dishonor and debauch my Sister I will kill you as Shure as the Lord lives.”He goes on, “I know that Joseph was Command to take more wives and he waited until an angel with a Drawn Sword Stood before him and declared that if he no longer delayed fulfilling that Command he would Slay him.”
Joseph did marry Almira Johnson that summer. Johnson recorded that “the prophet Came and at my house occupied the Same Room and bed with my Sister [Almira] that the month previous he had occupied with the Daughter of the Late Bishop Partridge as his wife.” 1
Joseph often guaranteed the salvation of an entire family if the object of his affection agreed to his proposal as in the case of fourteen-year-old Helen Mar Kimball wrote:
“Having a great desire to relate to the Prophet, Joseph, he (my father) offered me to him; this I afterwards learned from the Prophet’s own mouth.”“My father had but one Ewe Lamb, but willingly laid her upon the altar: how cruel this seemed to my mother whose heartstrings were already stretched until they were ready to snap asunder, for she had already taken Sarah Noon to wife and she thought she had made sufficient sacrifice but the Lord required more.” 2
Joseph Smith gave Helen only 24 hours to decide on whether to marry him. Helen wrote:
“My father left me to reflect upon it for the next twenty-four hours. … I was skeptical – one minute believed, then doubted. I thought of the love and tenderness that he felt for his only daughter, and I knew that he would not cast me off, and this was the only convincing proof that I had of its being right.”
The next day, the 37-year-old Joseph claimed his teen bride. In her memoir, Helen wrote, “After which he said to me, ‘if you take this step, it will ensure your eternal salvation and exaltation and that of your father’s household and all of your kindred.’This promise was so great that I willingly gave myself to purchase so glorious a reward.”
Helen also thought her marriage to Joseph Smith was non-sexual. But to her surprise, it was not.“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.” 3
There is the heart-wrenching story of Lucy Walker.
The Walker family arrived in Nauvoo in the spring of 1841, but sadly in January 1842, Lucy’s mother died of malaria, leaving her husband, John, with ten children to care for. In the family’s time of grief and need for each other, Joseph Smith sent Lucy’s father John on a two-year mission to the eastern states, placing Lucy’s siblings in the homes of different members.
He saved 15-year-old Lucy for his house and subsequently informed the lonely and vulnerable girl, “I have a message for you, I have been commanded of God to take another wife, and you are the woman.”Lucy recorded in her journal,“My astonishment knew no bounds. This announcement was indeed a thunderbolt to me.” 4
Her anguish was made clear by her words of prayer:“Oh that the grave would kindly receive me that I might find rest on the bosom of my dear mother… Why Should I be chosen from among thy daughters, Father I am only a child in years and experience. No mother to council; no father near to tell me what to do, in this trying hour. Oh, let this bitter cup pass. And thus I prayed in the agony of my soul.” 5
Joseph also told Lucy that the marriage would have to be secret and intensified the pressure on this poor girl by giving her an ultimatum: “It is a command of God to you. I will give you until (sic) to-morrow (sic) to decide this matter. If you reject this message the gate will be closed forever against you.” 6
Joseph Smith’s son tried to exonerate his father from the charge of having sex with his many wives, but after speaking to many of them in person, he accepted the relationships were sexual.
More than a dozen faithful LDS women testified that their marriages to Joseph Smith included sex. Close relatives of Smith’s “wives” testified that he spent the night in the same bed with them.
Many cult leaders – Jim Jones, David Koresh, Warren Jeffs and others likewise claimed to have received “revelations” similar to D&C 132 justifying them having sexual relations with multiple women and yes, girls in their early teens.
Richard van Wagoner in his book, Mormon Polygamy suggests that should a woman spurn Joseph’s advances, she risked having he reputation blackened. Nancy Rigdon, Sarah Pratt, and Martha Brotherton certainly saw their reputations impugned.
The prophet labeled Sarah, a ‘whore from her mother’s breast,’Martha Brotherton branded as a ‘mean harlot,’and Nancy was labeled a ‘poor miserable girl out of the very slough of prostitution.” 7
Is Smith’s public slandering of these women Christ-like?
I think it is important to note as well that Emma was also a victim of Joseph’s Coercion. Frustrated by her opposition to his many marriages, in D&C 132, it is made clear that she had better get on side or she, ‘shall be destroyed.”
- Verily, I say unto you: A commandment I give unto mine handmaid, Emma Smith, your wife, whom I have given unto you, that she stay herself and partake not of that which I commanded you to offer unto her; for I did it, saith the Lord, to prove you all, as I did Abraham, and that I might require an offering at your hand, by covenant and sacrifice.
- And let mine handmaid, Emma Smith, receive all those that have been given unto my servant Joseph, and who are virtuous and pure before me; and those who are not pure, and have said they were pure, shall be destroyed, saith the Lord God.” 8
Apologists Responses to Joseph’s Coercive Stratagems:
“Some writers affirm that Joseph Smith put pressure on women to marry him. They portray him almost as a predator gallivanting about Nauvoo seeking new wives, even marrying other men’s spouses. While it makes for an entertaining storyline, it does not square with the historical record. One of Joseph’s plural wives, Lucy Walker, remembered the Prophet’s counsel: “A woman would have her choice, this was a privilege that could not be denied her.” The Prophet taught that eternal marriage was necessary for exaltation and encouraged all those he taught to comply, but he always respected their agency and choices in the matter.” 9
“Given that the Saints believed Joseph was a prophet, any command from him would carry significant weight. No one was coerced or forced into marriage (see above). However, given that the Saints believed Joseph was a prophet, any command from him would carry significant weight. Despite this, the reported initial reactions are all negative: these women were strong-minded and did not simply obey because Joseph told them to. Because of their distaste for the idea, many plural wives reported divine revelations that confirmed the truth of plural marriage. Joseph encouraged women to seek for such divine confirmation.”
“Some writers affirm that Joseph Smith put pressure on women to marry him. They portray him almost as a predator gallivanting about Nauvoo seeking new wives, even marrying other men’s spouses. While it makes for an entertaining storyline, it does not square with the historical record. One of Joseph’s plural wives, Lucy Walker, remembered the Prophet’s counsel: ‘A woman would have her choice, this was a privilege that could not be denied her.’ The Prophet taught that eternal marriage was necessary for exaltation and encouraged all those he taught to comply, but he always respected their agency and choices in the matter.” 10
1Mormon Enigma, Second Edition, P.146
2Helen Mar Kimball Journal, Helen Mar Autobiography, Woman’s Exponent, 1880
3 Polygamy: A History, by LDS member Richard S. van Wagoner, p. 53.
7 Richard Van Wagoner in his book, Mormon Polygamy, p. 299
8 Doctrine and Covenants 132:51-52
9 Brian Hales, “A Response to Concerns Regarding Joseph Smith and the Practice of Plural Marriage in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints,” October 17, 2013.