Wednesday, November 5, 2014

On Polygamy and Human Complexity

In recent years, and even more so in the last few weeks, a lot of information has come about dealing with Joseph Smith and polygamy. Information has been brought to light that he'd married others as early as 1830 and some as young as fourteen. Evidence has also come about showing that he had married women who were already married. While learning this of the man who founded the church I believe in is hard, it still has no affect on my faith and testimony.

It is unfortunate that over the last few decades our church has put its leaders on a pedestal -- expecting no fault from them and taking every utterance as doctrine. However, this was never the case.

I like this quote from Julie M. Smith from Times and Seasons:

"I think the odd confluence of 1950's American corporate culture, historical amnesia, and rapid world-wide growth led Mormonism to advance the idea that a CEO-like prophet got regular memo's from God, bullet-pointed with precise operating instructions designed to maximize return for the next quarter."

There is a lot to take from the quote. Not only are we imagining our leaders as being high above us, but that they have constant revelation flowing through them, directing them in literally all things. This method of belief is simply not true.

While what Joseph Smith had done can most certainly be held in a negative light (and perhaps deservedly so), to view him as infallible is taking away a very human element in not only his life but in any of the prophets lives--ancient or modern. It makes these men simple creatures. Much of what Joseph Smith had taught was good and relevant and meaningful. Much of what he had done was good. And I'm not trying to vindicate what he'd done in regards to polygamy (as well as the many other mistakes he'd made and sins he'd committed) I do not agree with it, but I am simply addressing the fact that humans are a sum of many part, good and bad, weak and strong, many of which may not make sense. Despite occasional direction from God Joseph Smith was no where near perfect.

Even despite evidence of prophets humanness we still have a tendency to elevate them above humanity. Within the scriptures we have examples of important men--prophets, apostles, ordained persons--who made bad decisions, who were unforgiving, or ignorant but we tend to leave out those parts when perhaps we shouldn't. Look at Abraham, Jonah, Lot, Elisha, David, Solomon, Judas, Peter, Paul . . . each of which had faults--major faults.

It is for these reasons (and more) that I find no real value on basing my faith (in really any capacity) in men, even those ordained to high office. This doesn't discount their advice. This doesn't diminish their importance or influence. It means that I can allow them to make mistakes, believe things in different ways than I believe but still sustain them as leaders of the church.