I stumbled across your site and its very refreshing. I appreciate your willingness to tackle difficult topics. During my in depth research into Polygamy, I learned that Polyandry was also practiced. Anyone I’ve ever tried to discuss this with either has no idea what I’m talking about, accuses me of being Anti, or cringes at the thought of it. I dare say my research has been innocent, yet vigorous and I’m confident about the facts surrounding this. Could you explain Polyandry to your readers, then explain to me why Joseph and others practiced it?
There are a few things I would like to address from your email.
First the general response that you have gotten from the various members of the church.. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints believes in being built on the rock of revelation. Its purpose is to help increase the faith of its members and help them become more Christ-like. The foundation of this is to help people gain a witness from the spirit that Jesus is the Christ, followed by further spiritual witnesses that the Book of Mormon is a book of scripture like the bible, that Joseph Smith was a prophet of God, and that the LDS church is currently lead by a prophet of God. Then once people have received such spiritual truths by revelation the church is to help nurture such faith and help people in their efforts to do the will of Christ.
That doesn’t leave a lot of time to dig into every interesting bit of history in a formal setting. The church has therefore wisely chosen to focus on the things of eternal importance and leave the rest to an individual effort guided by the interest and spiritual promptings/strength of the individual. In many if not most cases the spiritual witness that Joseph Smith is a prophet is enough. They don’t need to go any farther, because they trust in God and that he will not lead them false.
This is why when someone pulls up something from church history many of the church members will not have a clue. They were taught to gain and maintain faith.
Those that are against the church know that if they can plant a seed of doubt they might be able to kill off faith, and cause people to deny the truth that God has shared with them and turn to some arm of flesh evidence as a ‘new truth.’ One of the most common tactics they use is the question “If so and so is a prophet/called of god why did they do such and such.” Which pattern your question falls into even if you did not mean it to.
The natural response is to try to avoid letting the seed of doubt get planted and/or to uproot it as soon as possible. Since many don’t have a knowledge of the events in question they can’t counter with facts and explanations of how the facts are being twisted or misrepresented. That leaves them no facts to counter the challenge and support the revealed truths they have. You have seen the results of that.
This also leaves some with the impression that the church is trying hide the truth and/or ignore the rough spots in church history. This accusation of course neglects the fact that the church is the one of the biggest preservers of the various historical records and artifacts and allows other access to them. In many cases the very artifact they use to make their claims. (Seem like a poor thing to do if we are trying to hide things)
Now to polyandry. Polyandry refers to a form of marriage in which a woman has two or more husbands at the same time. The historical records show that Joseph Smith had 11 polyandrous marriages. Of those all but 2 took place before 1843. Therefore polyandry started out as the way it was done (or least a good chunk of plural marriage) and then faded out.
The questions become why? The detractors of the church would imply or claim that Joseph Smith was abusing his power to gratify himself. But that is based on fact that the marriages happened and innuendo on what it ‘must have meant.’ We don’t have all personal journals for all the wives or all the other husbands, therefore their is alot we don’t know about how each individual reacted. I don’t really have enough space to go into what we do have. So lets focus on why Joseph Smith most likely did what he did.
When Moroni visited the young Joseph he told him that… And he shall plant in the hearts of the children the promises made to the fathers, and the hearts of the children shall turn to their fathers. If it were not so, the whole earth would be utterly wasted at his coming.
Therefore at a very early age Joseph was taught just how important the sealing power was. For many of us when we hear sealing we instantly think marriage. Its more that that. Its the binding of families together, its also the grafting in of those not genetically related (adoption), until the entire human family is connected. We don’t really know why this is necessary, but Moroni told us what happens if we don’t.
Joseph Smith knew this, he was also the one that Lord was using to teach all the others of its importance. He was commanded by the Lord to be sealed to other women. Emma struggled with the commandment. It’s very possible that Joseph tried to balance the two by being sealed for eternity only. The other wives would stay with their existing husbands in all earthly respects while gaining the benefits of being sealed. Thus he could follow the commandment while giving Emma more time try to come to terms with it.
I know its not a perfect answer. We don’t have any records where Joseph Smith explains why. But given the timing of when it happened and who it effected it seems to me that polyandry was a result of the early church leaders efforts to follow the very hard command of the Lord in plural marriages. Where the people perfect in this effort? No of course not. If they were, it would not have been a struggle. But they were trying to live the commandment of God as best they could.