Skip to comments.LDS rebut N.Y. Times Web article
Posted on 05/06/2008 10:18:16 AM PDT by Utah Girl
The historian for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints took issue Monday with a New York Times opinion piece comparing FLDS polygamists in Texas to 19th century Mormons.
In a statement released Monday, church historian Elder Marlin K. Jensen took exception to author Timothy Egan's portrayal in the Times.
"Mr. Egan's cavalier comparison of FLDS polygamy practices with those of 19th century Latter-day Saints is historically unsupported and simply wrong," wrote Elder Jensen, a member of the church's Quorums of Seventy. "By implication, he also unfairly impugns the integrity of all Latter-day Saint marriages and families, the very institutions they hold most dear."
In a piece posted on the Times Web site April 23, Egan called the polygamists in west Texas "1870s Stepford wives" and "men with their low monotones and pious, seeming disregard for the law on child sex." And Egan drew parallels between present-day FLDS members and 1800s Mormons.
In his response, Elder Jensen wrote, "The conditions surrounding the practice of polygamy in Texas today bear little resemblance to the plural marriage practiced by Mormons more than a century ago," he said. "As thoughtful historians know, a serious study of history does not impose contemporary understandings and sensibilities onto an interpretation of earlier time periods."
Elder Jensen also said Egan's tacit claim that 19th century Mormon women were subservient and backward was false. Women played an integral part in LDS culture, held jobs and were politically active, Elder Jensen said.
"For a long time ... the church was at odds with basic American ideals, and not just because old guys sanctioned marital sex with dozens of teenage girls," Egan wrote. "What you see in Texas in small part is a look back at some of the behavior of Mormonism's founding fathers."
"Smith was fortunate enough to find a religious cover for his desire," Egan continued. "His polygamy 'revelation' was put into The Doctrine and Covenants, one of three sacred texts of Mormonism."
In his response, Elder Jensen wrote that men and women often married at a younger age than might be considered acceptable today. A girl marrying at 15 was not uncommon and the common-law marriage age for women was 12, he said. Women were not forced into marriages and divorces were "readily granted," Elder Jensen wrote.
Attempts Monday night to contact Egan for comment were unsuccessful.
• Column by New York Times Op-Extra columnist Timothy Egan (April 23)
• Response by Elder Marlin K. Jensen, Church Historian, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (May 5)
In the April 23, 2008 online-edition of The New York Times, Timothy Egan wrote a post on the Outposts blog claiming that the way polygamy is practiced today by members of the FLDS sect in Eldorado, Texas is the same as it was practiced by members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons) in the 19th century.
While most people know that Mormons abandoned the practice of polygamy at the end of the 19th century, it's also important to understand that the conditions surrounding the practice of polygamy in Texas today bear little resemblance to the plural marriage practiced by Mormons more than a century ago. In fact, a closer look at history contradicts the simple reductive characterizations of "Mormon polygamy" offered by Egan. As thoughtful historians know, a serious study of history does not impose contemporary understandings and sensibilities onto an interpretation of earlier time periods.
Much of the argument Egan makes for similarities between FLDS polygamy and early Mormon marriage practices relates to the claim of "sexual manipulation" of children as evidenced by the age of marriage. In fact, men and women often married at a much younger age in the 19th century than we find acceptable today. Historian Kathryn Daynes, who has studied the subject in depth, says that although the female average age at marriage in the United States during the nineteenth century was twenty or older, a girl marrying at age 15 was not uncommon and certainly was not considered abused. The common-law marriage age for women was 12. Historically, outside of northwestern Europe, women at 14 to 16 were assumed to be ready for marriage.
Egan also seeks to equate the stereotypical view of 19th century Mormon women as timid, subservient, and backward, to the image of FLDS women portrayed in recent days in the media. History, however, paints a different picture. Nineteenth-century Mormon women, in both plural and monogamous marriages, were not just interested in raising families and blindly following their husbands. They were politically active and participated in territorial elections. Many were well connected with national women's organizations. These women also taught school and were active in publishing and literary activities. Some even served their communities by going to medical school and becoming skilled physicians. Because of their competence and level of self-reliance, they did not have to resort to public assistance.
Unlike the contemporary practice of polygamy in Eldorado, Texas, 19th century plural marriage among members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was not controlled by the arbitrary authority of one individual. On the contrary, decisions related to marriage were settled by consideration of the feelings of all interested parties. Furthermore, the consent of individual women was always honored in any marriage proposal. Though there was some social and cultural pressure, it was not determinative. Both men and women were free to refuse offers of marriage they found unacceptable.
Brigham Young did not arrange marriages unless he was asked to, and he readily granted divorces. Far from the misconceptions of life-long servitude to the absolute power of the patriarchy, this non-legalistic system of divorce allowed women considerable autonomy.
In distinction to the cloistered isolation of today's polygamous groups, including the FLDS, Mormon culture in the 19th century was characterized by a vibrancy of productive activity in various fields of endeavor: education, industry, politics, community-building, agriculture, and many professions. Latter-day Saints strived to move apace with the rapid demands and changes of life and sought to embrace modernity, not thwart it. They sought to take advantage of the ideas and innovations of modern life by establishing schools and universities of higher education. In this they followed the advice of Joseph Smith: "One of the grand fundamental principles of 'Mormonism' is to receive truth, let it come from whence it may."
Marriage in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is sacred and ordained of God. The family is the basic social unit in this life and in the next. The social, emotional, and spiritual health of all family members was (in the 19th century) and is today the primary concern of every Latter-day Saint mother and father. Mr. Egan's cavalier comparison of FLDS polygamous practices with those of 19th century Latter-day Saints is historically unsupported and simply wrong. By implication, he also unfairly impugns the integrity of all Latter-day Saint marriages and families, the very institutions they hold most dear.
Elder Marlin K. Jensen
Church Historian, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
I was thinking about this when I drove to work this morning. We welcome everyone to our church services each Sunday. Stop by a local meetinghouse and get the times.
Anyone is welcome in our homes to see how we live. Policy is that young men and young women should not start dating until they are 16 (group activities are allowed for those 14 and older.) The temples are open to any worthy member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. And if there is an open house of an LDS temple in your area, attend it. You can see with your own eyes what is inside. After the temple is dedicated, however, only worthy members can attend.
How so? I see no difference whatsoever.
He explained his reason. Are you 150 years old, or do you mean “see” in some other sense of “it’s how I feel so it must be true”?
Otherwise, you could present your first-hand accounts of mormon marriage in the 1800s, and explain how he got it wrong.
Judging only by the description he gave, and what we know about FLDS, they are remarkably different.
Well, I suggest that you ask FReeper Sentinel, who’s the real expert here, based upon his personal experience within the Mormon bishoporic and his access to the official Mormon histories.
The self-deception that Mormons have about their past is staggering.
ROTFL!!! I think I’ll pass on the invitation to listen to the public relations and sanitized version of your activities.
Several of our members have attended Mormon worship services but the Mormons could not reciprocate. So that was the end of that.
My next door neighbor’s daughter is doing her mission soon. No word on where yet. She’s waiting to see if she has to go to language school.
HISTORICALLY INACCURATE, Utah Girl! And...yes, Joseph Smith's marriage to Helen Mar Kimball, among others (see below), puts him in the Warren Jeffs, FLDS, category (and vis versa).
If one looks at US statistics over the past 100 years for example, one sees that men had an average age at marriage of 25.9 years in 1900. Women in 1900 had an average age at marriage of 22 years. For some this shatters an illusion that women 100 years ago were sold into marriage as young children.
Even Jane Austen, writing in the early 19th century had heroines married at the earliest age of 17 or 18. In Laura Ingalls Wilders books, which are semi-autobiographical, her father would not allow her to marry until she was 18. Thus it can be said that the average woman was past 21 when entering her first marriage, 100 years ago.
Many LDS Church leaders and historians suggest that sexual relations and the marriage of Joseph Smith and his youngest wife, Helen Mar Kimball, fourteen at the time, was "approaching eligibility."
There is no documentation to support the idea that marriage at fourteen was "approaching eligibility." Actually, marriages even two years later, at the age of sixteen, occurred occasionally but infrequently in Helen Mar's culture. Thus, girls marrying at fourteen, even fifteen, were very much out of the ordinary. Sixteen was comparatively rare, but not unheard of. American women began to marry in their late teens; around different parts of the United States the average age of marriage varied from nineteen to twenty-three.
In the United States the average age of menarche (first menstruation) dropped from 16.5 in 1840 to 12.9 in 1950. More recent figures indicate that it now occurs on average at 12.8 years of age. The mean age of first marriages in colonial America was between 19.8 years to 23.7, most women were married during the age period of peak fecundity (fertility).
Mean pubertal age has declined by some 3.7 years from the 1840s.
The psychological sexual maturity of Helen Mar Kimball in todays average age of menarche (first menstruation) would put her psychological age of sexual maturity at the time of the marriage of Joseph Smith at 9.1 years old. (16.5 years-12.8 years =3.7 years) (12.8 years-3.7 years=9.1 years)
The fact is Helen Mar Kimball's sexual development was still far from complete. Her psychological sexual maturity was not competent for procreation. The coming of puberty is regarded as the termination of childhood; in fact the term child is usually defined as the human being from the time of birth to the on-coming of puberty. Puberty the point of time at which the sexual development is completed. In young women, from the date of the first menstruation to the time at which she has become fitted for marriage, the average lapse of time is assumed by researchers to be two years.
Age of eligibility for women in Joseph Smiths time-frame would start at a minimum of 19 ½ years old.
This would suggest that Joseph Smith had sexual relations and married several women before the age of eligibility, and some very close to the age of eligibility including:
Fanny Alger 16
Sarah Ann Whitney 17
Lucy Walker 17
Flora Ann Woodworth 16
Emily Dow Partridge 19
Sarah Lawrence 17
Maria Lawrence 19
Helen Mar Kimball 14
Melissa Lott 19
Nancy M. Winchester [14?]
And then we have these testimonies:
"Joseph was very free in his talk about his women. He told me one day of a certain girl and remarked, that she had given him more pleasure than any girl he had ever enjoyed. I told him it was horrible to talk like this." - Joseph Smith's close confidant and LDS Church First Councilor, William Law, Interview in Salt Lake Tribune, July 31, 1887
When Heber C. Kimball asked Sister Eliza R. Snow the question if she was not a virgin although married to Joseph Smith, she replied, "I thought you knew Joseph Smith better than that." - Stake President Angus M. Cannon, statement of interview with Joseph III, 23, LDS archives.
Short Bios of Smith's wives: http://www.wivesofjosephsmith.org
Did Smith have sex with his wives?: http://www.i4m.com/think/history/joseph_smith_sex.htm
Whatever the average age of menarche might have been in the mid 19th-century, the average age of marriage was around 20 for women and 22 for men. And a gap of 15 to 20 years or more between partners was very unusual, not typical. Whatever biology might have to say, according to the morals of his time, several of Joseph Smith's wives were still inappropriately young for him.
Could not reciprocate? I can go anywhere I want to. When I am with family who are not Mormon, I attend Church with them. Oh, how I hate all these anti Mormon posts.
I need to say something here in all charity.
This FLDS story is making me realize that ‘truth’ is a very soft item in the LDS religion. It seems that it is like clay, that it can be molded and shaped. On top of that, it seems ‘truth’ can be whatever it is because someone ‘feels’ it to be so.
I do legitimately think that this is a cause for the large number of liberal Mormon politicians, irrespective of the LDS ‘conservative’ teachings.
Are there liberal ‘Christian’ politicians as well as there are liberal ‘Mormon’ politicians? Of course there are, but my observation still stands that the root of liberalism is the inability to concretly define truth, and this refusal to accept the link between Joseph Smith and Warren Jeffs is on display, and most people in America are recognizing the connection.
On a political note, this would be a very unwise time to have McCain choose Romney for VP.
My neighbor said it varies across the country. It’s more traditional. In this area, you are expected to always find a Mormon church rather than visit another church. Evidentally, there is some record keeping involved.
***This FLDS story is making me realize that truth is a very soft item in the LDS religion.***
When one considers that Joseph Smith literally pulled the Mormon religion out of his hat is it really any wonder?
I thought that since you said “from what I see, there’s no difference”, that you would be the person to ask about why you “see no difference”.
I didn’t realise you were in fact just channeling other freepers, and had no basis for your opinion.
Since there were still states in this century who allowed marriages that young, it obviously was something that happened. Whether it was the norm or not is a more interesting question.
I was surprised when it was posted that Loretta Lynn got married when she was 14. But I was talking to a neighbor from Loisiana and apparently there are a few girls getting married at very young ages there as well.
At one church I have personal knowledge of, the son of the minister married a 15-year-old.
Again, not to say it was the norm. Also not sure we can compare 1900 to 1850, by 1900 we were well into the industrial period; 1850 was still a different cultural era altogether.
The stuff below should be kept in mind of PBY's context mentioned in post #9...that the average age in 1900 was actually 26 for men & 22 for women.
As one poster on another thread said: the FLDS are the LDS of yesteryear...
Note how young the 19th century Mormon wives were!
The book, Changing World, p. 226: The early Mormon leaders certainly did allow their young people to marry at an early age. Mosiah Hancock was only 11 years old when he was "sealed" to a "young girl." According to his journal, he was "born in Kirtland, Ohio, on April the 9th, 1834." ("The Mosiah Hancock Journal," typed copy, p.1). On pages 20 and 21 of the same journal, he recorded: On about January 10, 1846, I was privileged to go in the temple and receive my washings and annointings. I was sealed to a lovely young girl named Mary, who was about my age, but it was with the understanding that we were not to live together as man and wife until we were 16 years of age. The reason that some were sealed so young was because we knew that we would have to go West and wait many a long time for another temple.
According to Stanley P. Hirshon, who wrote a biography of Brigham Young: "Make haste and get married," Remy heard Young preach. "Let me see no boys above sixteen and girls above fourteen unmarried." ... In 1857 The New York Times, reporting the sealings to old men of two girls aged ten and eleven, estimated that most girls married before they were fourteen.... Troskolawsski knew one bishop who was sealed to four of his nieces, the youngest thirteen years old....On August 1, 1856, he put on the stagecoach for Ohio twelve-year-old Emma Wheat, who was being forced into a marriage she detested." (The Lion of the Lord, pp.126-27).
Changing World, p. 225: The shortage of women was so great that some of the men were marrying girls who were very young. Fanny Stenhouse stated:
"That same year, a bill was brought into the Territorial Legislature, providing that boys of fifteen years of age and girls of twelve might legally contract marriage, with the consent of their parents or guardians!" (Tell It All, 1875, p.607).
According to http://www.utlm.org/newsletters/no91.htm, Stenhouse was "at one time had been a firm believer in Mormonism and had even allowed her husband to take another wife. She wrote: "It would be quite impossible, with any regard to propriety, to relate all the horrible results of this disgraceful system.... Marriages have been contracted between the nearest of relatives; and old men tottering on the brink of the grave have been united to little girls scarcely in their teens; while unnatural alliances of every description, which in any other community would be regarded with disgust and abhorrence, are here entered into in the name of God...It is quite a common thing in Utah for a man to marry two or even three sisters.... I know also another man who married a widow with several children; and when one of the girls had grown into her teens he insisted on marrying her also... and to this very day the daughter bears children to her step-father, living as wife in the same house with her mother!"(Tell It All, 1874, pages 468-69)
Per researcher George D. Smith (Source: "Nauvoo Polygamists", George D. Smith, Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought, Spring 1994, p. ix, as found at http://www.utlm.org/newsletters/no91.htm) discovered that of "a list of 153 men who took plural wives in the early years of the Mormon Church. When we examined this list, we noted that two of the young girls were only thirteen years old when they were lured into polygamy. Thirteen girls were only fourteen years old. Twenty-one were fifteen years old, and fifty-three were sixteen years old when they were secretly enticed into this degrading lifestyle."
"I shall not seal the people as I have done. Old Father Alread brought three young girls 12 & 13 years old. I would not seal them to him. They would not be equally yoked together...Many get their endowments who are not worthy and this is the way that devils are made." (Source: Wilford Woodruff, Wilford Woodruff's Journal, 5:58.)
Examples of real young girls being married off in 19th century Mormon families: Judson Tolman, 19, married first wife Sarah Holbrook, 13, in 1846 before adding 4 more wives; James Francis Johnson married Rozina Richmond, 13 (perhaps 14) in 1876...then J.F. Johnson took on another wife in 1894 after the so-called "manifesto" supposedly "ending" polygamy--to Clara Barber who was 16--maybe 17. J.F. Johnson was in his late 30s at that time he married Barber.
24 yo Arthur Clark married 14 yo Mary Rasmussen as the second of four wives; Charles Richardson married 14 yo first wife Sarah Adams in 1882--his third wife (Carolina Jacobson) was probably 16 & he was 30. (He had 4 wives overall)
Thomas Chamberlain II actually double-married two 17 yo on the same date in 1873...and then added on a 15 yo (Ann Carling) in 1875 followed by her sister--also 15--three years later.
Abel Hardy married a 15 yo (Maria Cooley) in 1896 and then post-manifesto, married Cynthia Porter (16) in 1901. (Hundreds of 16 yo LDS girls were married off as plural wives in the 19th century and early 20th century).
Notice how the initial LDS leaders set the terrible example for fLDS leaders by being in their 40s or late 30s (or beyond re: later LDS "prophets")
Just look at the compulsory "wifehood" of underaged teens: Brigham Young, when he was in his 40s, wedded 15-year-old Clarissa Decker, 16-year-old Ellen Rockwood (when Young was 44); and 16-year-old Lucy Bigelow (when Young was 45).
Its initial "prophet"--Joseph Smith--promised salvation to the household of the Kimball Klan, and what do you know? 14-year-old Helen Mar Kimball, who initially hated polygamy, was part of Smith's harem. Smith also added to his long list of wives 16-year-old Presendia Huntington; 17-year-old Mary Rollins; 17-year-old Patty Bartlett; and 17-year-old Sarah Ann Whitney. (Smith allegedly began his pre-marital affair with Fanny Alger when she was 16; Smith was the legal guardian of her).
As for LDS 19th century old men: "Joseph E. Robinson recalled that President Lorenzo Snow told him that he had father a child in his eighty-eighth year." (source B. Carmon Hardy, Solemn Covenant, p. 93)
Even the LDS "prophet" who posted a manifesto to "end" polygamy added a wife in 1897 when 90-year-old Wilford Woodruff married 49-year-old Lydia Mountford.
Brethren, I want you to understand that it is not to be as it has been heretofore. The brother missionaries have been in the habit of picking out the prettiest women for themselves before they get here, and bringing on the ugly ones for us; hereafter you have to bring them all here before taking any of them, and let us all have a fair shake."
- Apostle Heber C. Kimball, The Lion of the Lord, New York, 1969, pp.129-30.
And...for further context, what reason did Joseph Smith give to 14 year old Helen Mar Kimball that compelled her to marry him?
And...if Smith's teenage polygamous marriages were so culturally acceptable back then...THEN WHY DID HE LIE ABOUT NOT HAVING ANY POLYGAMOUS WIVES?
Are you really contending, here, that Smith's polygamous marriages to teenage girls was acceptable?
There is no “record keeping” involved. Mormons are free to visit other churches, without any restriction.
The ward clerk keeps track of gross attendance at various meetings, but no one is keeping track of whether any particular individual is attending church meetings.
And, even if they were, that wouldn’t preclude someone from visiting another church if invited.
If you are talking about simply attending a different church if you are visiting somewhere away from home, most Mormons would look for another Mormon church. For us, the purpose of attending Sacrament Meeting on Sunday is to take the sacrament as administered by those with priesthood authority. If a Mormon family knows ahead of time that they are going to be far away from a Mormon meetinghouse, their Bishop can give them permission to have the priesthood holders in the family administer the sacrament. The family would probably hold their own little meeting, then.
I rarely read the part of the threads that are simply LDS-bashing, because it has nothing to do with my interest.
However, what I have read didn’t put the charges made against the FLDS on par with what this particular person claims was the norm in the LDS church in the 1800s.
So when you said you could see it, I was asking for what you saw that made it the same.
I don’t really want to go off and research it, and if you want to tell me to pound sand, that’s fine.
I know when I make statements, and people ask me what basis I have, I like to tell them, because my point of posting was to educate and convince others.
I know other people just like to post for other reasons than to be informative. Nobody is required to be informative.