Joseph Smith’s Polygamy: Separating Fact and Fiction (Interview)

Joseph Smith’s Polygamy: Separating Fact and Fiction (Interview)

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This interview with Brian C. Hales and Laura Harris Hales continues Meridian Expand’s forum on polygamy.

Ralph: “When did you become interested in the Mormon Polygamy question? How has your interest developed, and what have you written?”

Brian: In 1989 a member of my family was excommunicated for joining a polygamy group. I studied their teachings but was never impressed, especially regarding sealing authority. In response, I wrote three books about Mormon Fundamentalist history and the theological problems with their doctrines. When I spoke with people about modern polygamy, many would ask me questions about Joseph Smith’s plural marriages, but I couldn’t answer them. Eventually, I started what turned out to be a six-year project culminating in the 1500-plus page Joseph Smith’s Polygamy: History and Theology (Greg Kofford Books, 2013).

Laura: I became interested in the Mormon Polygamy question after attending a panel discussion on Brian’sJoseph Smith’s Polygamy books shortly after we became engaged. The response from the crowd during the question and answer session included tears and heart-felt expressions of distress. The dramatic reaction encouraged me to set aside a serious block of time to read his books.

What I learned was surprising because it represented unconventional, unusual, and sometimes odd behavior. Unlike some members, I grew up knowing Joseph Smith had plural wives, but I presumed they numbered three or four, and Emma was aware of the sealings. That was not the case and processing new details into a long-established narrative was at times disconcerting, though the experience helped me empathize with those who struggle with Joseph Smith’s practice of polygamy.

I myself had information overload and needed time to figure out how this new narrative reflected on Joseph’s prophetic calling. For the next six months I studied, prayed, and pondered. After reaching my own conclusions, I was able to convince my husband to once again delve into the topic of Joseph Smith’s practice of polygamy and co-write a book for a mainstream LDS audience titled Joseph Smith’s Polygamy: Separating Fact from Fiction, available this spring. This book contextualizes the historical record in light of the theology Joseph taught and also includes short biographies of Joseph’s plural wives. [See cover illustration.] My husband and I also blog regularly on JosephSmithsPolygamy.org, a website containing essays on each of the major discussion points dealing with the early practice of polygamy.

Read the full interview at Meridian Magazine.

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