Mormons acknowledge early polygamy days at renovated museum

An exhibit at the Mormon Church History Museum. The Mormon church’s renovated history museum set to reopen this week features a small and surprising display about an uncomfortable part of the faith’s history that for generations has been glossed over: polygamy. Salt Lake City, Sept. 29, 2015 | AP Photo by Rick Bowmer, St. George News

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — The Mormon church’s renovated history museum set to reopen this week features a small and surprising display about an uncomfortable part of the faith’s history that for generations has been glossed over: polygamy.

Laurel and Hyrum Ence tour the Mormon Church History Museum, Tuesday, Sept. 29, 2015, in Salt Lake City. The Mormon church's renovated history museum set to reopen this week features a small and surprising display about an uncomfortable part of the faith's history that for generations has been glossed over: polygamy. | AP Photo by Rick Bowmer, St. George News
Laurel and Hyrum Ence tour the Mormon Church History Museum. The Mormon church’s renovated history museum set to reopen this week features a small and surprising display about an uncomfortable part of the faith’s history that for generations has been glossed over: polygamy, Salt Lake City, Utah, Sept. 29, 2015 | AP Photo by Rick Bowmer, St. George News

The display is tucked inside a modern revamped museum that tells the story of how the church was founded and formed in the eastern U.S. from 1820-1846 before Mormons trekked across the country to settle in Utah. Inside a special 220-seat theater, visitors can watch a theatrical dramatization of founder Joseph Smith’s much-dissected visit from God and Jesus in 1820 in the woods of upstate New York that led to the foundation of the religion.

The decision by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to provide more details about what is known as this “first vision” and acknowledge the early days of polygamy — a practice that has been outlawed by the mainstream church since 1890 — marks the latest illustration of the religion’s push for transparency over secrecy when it comes to its history and beliefs, religious scholars said.

“The fact that this is going to be deeply embedded in this kind of official narrative at the church’s signature museum is significant,” said Patrick Mason, associate professor of religion at Claremont Graduate University in California and Howard W. Hunter Chair of Mormon Studies. “This is where Mormons take their kids. This is where Mormon youth groups go.”

The museum is in downtown Salt Lake City near the religion’s much-visited flagship temple, where thousands of out-of-town visitors and Mormons from all over the world come to visit. The exhibit opens on Wednesday after being closed one year for renovations.

At a ribbon-cutting ceremony Tuesday, top-ranking Mormon leader Jeffrey R. Holland said the first museum revamp since 1984 shows the religion’s commitment to documenting and honoring the faith’s history. He said many Latter-day Saints will have a spiritual experience seeing artifacts that include clothes worn by Smith’s brother Hyrum Smith when the two were killed by a mob in 1844.

Holland said the polygamy display was included because “plural marriage was a fact of life for the early Mormon church.”

“It wouldn’t be much history in this church if that were not acknowledged,” said Holland, a member of the faith’s governing body called the Quorum of the Twelve. “It’s not a principal part of the exhibit, but we acknowledge that was a fact for some years in the church.’

The death mask of Joseph Smith is shown during a tour of the Mormon Church History Museum, Sept. 29, 2015, in Salt Lake City. The Mormon church's renovated history museum set to reopen this week features a small and surprising display about an uncomfortable part of the faith's history that for generations has been glossed over: polygamy. | AP Photo by Rick Bowmer, St. George News
The death mask of Joseph Smith is shown during a tour of the Mormon Church History Museum. The Mormon church’s renovated history museum set to reopen this week features a small and surprising display about an uncomfortable part of the faith’s history that for generations has been glossed over: polygamy, Salt Lake City, Utah, Sept. 29, 2015 | AP Photo by Rick Bowmer, St. George News

The reopening comes nearly a year after the church published an essay documenting that Smith had a teenage bride and was married to other men’s wives during the faith’s early polygamous days. That online article was the first time the Salt Lake City-based religion had officially acknowledged facts long documented by historians, though it also had not denied them.

The church has also published articles in recent years about other sensitive topics: sacred undergarments worn by devout members; a past ban on black men in the lay clergy; and the misconception that Mormons are taught they will get their own planet in the afterlife.

Early this year, the church published pictures for the first time of a small sacred stone it believes Smith used to help translate a story that became the basis of the religion. Those pictures are now on display in the museum.

The new polygamy exhibit features the headline “A Test of Faith: The Saints and Plural Marriage” above an interactive touch screen with stories of men and women who practiced polygamy. Embedded in the wall is Smith’s hand-written account of a revelation he received from God to practice polygamy. It has never been displayed before, museum director Alan Johnson said.

The polygamy display sits in the museum near a cloak worn by Smith and artifacts from the religion’s first temple.

“We’re following in the style of church history department’s recent years in trying to be open and transparent about questions that people have about the church,” Johnson said.

The Seer Stone and Pouch exhibit is shown during a tour of the Mormon Church History Museum, Tuesday, Sept. 29, 2015, in Salt Lake City. The Mormon church's renovated history museum set to reopen this week features a small and surprising display about an uncomfortable part of the faith's history that for generations has been glossed over: polygamy. | AP Photo by Rick Bowmer, St. George News
The Seer Stone and Pouch exhibit is shown during a tour of the Mormon Church History Museum. The Mormon church’s renovated history museum set to reopen this week features a small and surprising display about an uncomfortable part of the faith’s history that for generations has been glossed over: polygamy, Salt Lake City, Utah, Sept. 29, 2015 | AP Photo by Rick Bowmer, St. George News

The exhibit doesn’t include a list of Smith’s wives or details of his polygamous practices, but the touch screen provides information about where to find a link to last year’s essay with that information.

The church issued a manifesto banning polygamy in 1890, with then-church President Wilford Woodruff citing a revelation from God. It came after the Utah territory had been denied statehood by the federal government repeatedly in the previous decades because of Mormons’ practice of polygamy. In 1896, Utah was finally granted statehood.

The polygamy display may rattle some longtime church members who came of age during a time when the religion downplayed this sensitive part of its history, said Terryl Givens, professor of literature and religion and the James Bostwick chair of English at the University of Richmond.

That reaction can be attributed to efforts by church leaders and rank-and-file Mormons to find acceptance in a mainstream culture where outsiders often used that polygamous history to cast Latter-day Saints as outsiders with strange beliefs, Givens said.

Mormons also have to deal with outsiders who mistakenly believe that splinter sects that still practice polygamy like Warren Jeffs’ group on the Utah-Arizona are mainstream Mormons.

It used to be possible to tour all the Mormon historic sites in Salt Lake City without ever hearing or reading the word plural marriage or polygamy, Givens said.

“That opposition seared itself into the consciousness of Mormons,” Givens said. “It’s only natural they would have downplayed the polygamous party of their history. But it’s a new day, and there’s no longer any doubt about the church’s sincerity in making their history transparent.”

Story by: BRADY McCOMBS, Associated Press

Copyright 2015 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Related posts

Email: news@stgnews.com

Twitter: @STGnews

 

 

Free News Delivery by Email

Would you like to have the day's news stories delivered right to your inbox every evening? Enter your email below to start!

42 Comments

  • Roy J September 30, 2015 at 10:49 am

    Most Mormons I have talked with have always acknowledged polygamy in the early years of their church. It’s not like it’s a secret. What they have never acknowledged (or at least I have never heard it said) is that this practice in their early Church was wrong or evil, and this because (so far as I understand their position) they do not believe that is was at that time wrong for them. So I am having some difficulty seeing this as a development.

    • Roy J September 30, 2015 at 10:51 am

      It’s also noteworthy that this article particularly avoids calling polygamy wrong or evil; it simply says it was a fact.

      • Ladyk October 1, 2015 at 12:45 am

        It is a news article not one of Ed’s opinion pieces. Thankfully they kept to the facts.

        • Roy J October 1, 2015 at 11:27 am

          LADYK,
          Eh, that’s fair.

  • sagemoon September 30, 2015 at 12:00 pm

    I’m a big fan of the display in the park entering Enterprise. It tells all about how the town’s founder was a polygamist with teen (and adult) wives and how he sent one wife (he must not have liked her) to fail at farming in Beaver Dam. Descendants of the Enterprise settlers must be proud of their ancestor.

  • fun bag September 30, 2015 at 12:41 pm

    We’ll never know how many of the LDS founders were actually child molesters and pedophiles. Joseph Smith liked the young teens but not sure he would qualify as a pedo. Brigham Young.. who knows. I sure there was plenty of pedos just like up in short creek pligville. That’s probly why modern LDS turns a blind eye to the abuse and exploitation up there–in a way they probly admire it…

    • Brian September 30, 2015 at 1:02 pm

      You do realize the legal age of consent in the early American colonies was 10 years old (following English law), and that didn’t change until the 1900’s? There is a very good chance if you look through your own family history you’ll find ancestors that married girls in their early teens. It was both legal and acceptable at the time. Viewing history through a modern lens may make you feel special and enlightened, but you aren’t. Much smarter people than you and I believed the world was flat at one point.

      • barrie st george September 30, 2015 at 3:54 pm

        Yeah, and then they learned the truth. But it was hard to accept, and the church executed many of the first discoverers of the truth, just as now.

        One question, do you think it is ethical for a mid 30’s to 40 year old man to marry teenagers? You point to the age of consent, but how many other 14 year old girls outside of polygamy abuse were married to someone that was over twice their age, thereby robing them of the chance of a health, contemporary marriage.

        Is that your idea of God’s restored true and everlasting covenant? Would want your daughter or wife to endure that?

      • fun bag September 30, 2015 at 4:35 pm

        from what i’ve read the parents of some of those young teen girls weren’t too happy about Joseph smith coming around. He may very well have been labeled a sex addict and pervert by today’s standards. Give a man like that so much power and he presses the limits of what he can get away with–similar to Prophet Warren Jeffs I’d imagine… the whole “girls were married at 12-13 back in those days” excuse only flies so far. sometimes a pervert is just a pervert..

      • Rainbow Dash September 30, 2015 at 4:35 pm

        It was legal and acceptable back then in part because people didn’t live as long so the age difference was like 5 years, maybe 10 tops. Also they usually only married ONE other person and didn’t try to lie about it and cover it up for 100 years. On the other hand, Joe Smith and Brigham Young had MULTIPLE “wives” including “wives” who were still married to other men of all ages from 14 upward according to LDS.org. In my opinion, after Joe’s death The Mormon leadership actively tried to hide that he married a 14 year old girl when he already had other “wives” for over 100 years and when polygamy was outlawed they played down the fact that Ole’ Joe and Brigham had multiple wives. It has only been within the last year or two that the Mormon leadership has started to come clean and own up to the atrocities committed by the founders of their “church”.

        I want to say this, I have been accused recently of “hating” Mormons. This is just not true. I have no problem with individual Mormon people. I am a member of the church though inactive (obviously). I DO take issue with the organizations leadership because I believe they have intentionally and continually lied about, covered up and denied a lot in the short history of the church. I simply do not wish to be a part of an organization where such things are done and will tell whoever I think will benefit what I believe to be the truth. . It is my belief that if the Mormon church was truly the restored gospel then the church leadership would have been forthright and honest about who Joe Smith was and what he and others did from the very beginning. There would be no need for the modern leaders to feel that they need to be more open and transparent.

        Think about this: If the Mormon leadership had been open and honest from the beginning, why would they feel they need to be more open and “transparent” today?

        • barrie st george September 30, 2015 at 6:32 pm

          If the church leaders had been open and honest from the beginning:

          I believe J. Smith would have been thought an adulterer, he would not have had to lie about and create polygamy, he would not have ordered the destruction of a printing press which lead to him declaring marshal law and ultimately his imprisonment on charges of treason.

          In short, I doubt if the LDS movement would have gained any traction at all if the Mormon leadership had been open and honest from the beginning.

          • fun bag September 30, 2015 at 8:15 pm

            can someone pls be honest about the magic talking rocks inside hats and holy PLANET KOLOB

      • forfawkesake September 30, 2015 at 5:42 pm

        It is understood that some of our ancestors may have married young. That both the husband and wife were hitched at much younger ages than today.

        My great grandparents were both younger than the average marrying couple today. My great grandmother was late teens and my great grandfather was early twenties.

        When I was given the “discussions” I was told Joseph Smith had one wife, Emma. 15 years in the church and no one talked about his other wives.

        The LDS”s church very first leader/prophet was practicing polygamy and polyandry ( he had over 30 wives) before the following statement.

        “…What a thing it is for a man to be accused of committing adultery, and having seven wives, when I can only find one. I am the same man, and as innocent as I was fourteen years ago; and I can prove them all perjurers.” (History of the Church, vol 6, p. 411) Joseph Smith, Nauvoo on Sunday May 26, 1844.
        His youngest wife was 14, he also married a mother and daughter and two sisters.
        Why does a man who is 20 years older need to marry such young women? The answer is , he didn’t. Why did he need to marry other living men’s wives?

        Brigham Young was 45 years old when he married 16 year old Lucy Bigelow, a 29 year difference. He also married other 15,16 and 17 year old girls during the three years prior to that.

        Lorenzo Snow at the age of 57 married a 15 year old girl. I am sure she was thrilled by that “love match”.
        We know by census records that the ratio between men and women was not off balance. There was not a surplus of women or too few men contrary to that myth floating around the Mormon corridors.

        The point I am making is yes “young couples” marrying was common and acceptable but marrying off your daughters to old men in positions of power is not normal in any society nor should it ever be acceptable.

        https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lorenzo_Snow#Wives_and_children

    • Accountable September 30, 2015 at 2:41 pm

      I constantly see hate for and accusations against mormons and FLDS for child abuse and pedophila on this site; however, and even though there have been many recent articles about the pope’s visit, I haven’t seen any comments against the catholic church regarding crimes committed by Catholic priests, nuns, and members of Roman Catholic orders against boys and girls, some as young as 3 years old, with the majority between the ages of 11 and 14.

      • fun bag September 30, 2015 at 4:30 pm

        so you’re saying it’s ok for mormons and pligs to do it because the catholics do it? the state is controlled by a mormon theocratic government so its relevant to the area. catholics are a minority here

      • 42214 September 30, 2015 at 4:39 pm

        I help you out Accountable. The Mormons and the Catholics are both quilty of shameful child abuse and hypocrisy. That make you feel better?

        • 42214 September 30, 2015 at 9:57 pm

          It’s sad Accountable when the best you can do to defend Mormons is to say Catholics are worse. Very pathetic and weak. Care to comment Accountable?

          • fun bag September 30, 2015 at 10:56 pm

            “accountable” seems to not be very accountable at all. He’s resorting to scapegoating… “the mormons were bad, but the catholics were badder”… that makes it all ok what they did/do? i think not

      • Accountable September 30, 2015 at 6:56 pm

        Mormons and FLDS may have continued a legally prescribed practice past its acceptable phase; however, catholics are still raping and abusing children with impunity.

        Where’s the outrage when the U.S. Army kicks out a decorated Green Beret after an 11-year Special Forces career — Sgt.1st Class Charles Martland — for rescuing a 12 year old boy from a brutal rape by an afghan police commander?

        There are many more atrocities happening in our world right now. Get a grip and focus on CURRENT issues.

        • Rainbow Dash September 30, 2015 at 10:59 pm

          SAccountavbble your replies are beginning to sound one of NAtive borns fictional tales about how his cousins great great grandfather was a union soldier(who looked a lot like Kevin Costner) was sent to a remote fort in middle America where he met a wolf with two white patches on his legs that looked like socks, got involved with some Native Americans, fell in love with a white girl he met in the tribe(who looked a lot like Mary McDonnell) and eventually turned against the evil intruding arm of the federal government.

          • fun bag October 1, 2015 at 10:52 am

            LOL’d, so true. ahaaha

        • sagemoon October 1, 2015 at 10:18 am

          I don’t have anything more to contribute to the comments about this article. HOWEVER, my attention was caught when ACCOUNTABLE mentioned the issue of children being raped by Afghan officials. I didn’t hear about this until last week (although it happened four years ago) and I am just sick to my stomach. Maybe we should be more outraged at the current atrocities in our world.

          • Accountable October 1, 2015 at 11:37 pm

            Thank you SAGEMOON, just trying to keep everything in perspective here.

        • Roy J October 1, 2015 at 10:53 am

          ACCOUNTABLE,
          You would do well to apprise yourself of some facts before making any more impressively stupid comments. Catholics are not raping and abusing children with impunity, never have, never will. The fact that you are foolish enough to make that remark without any supporting facts whatsoever means that you are also doltish enough to assume that your remark reflects a generally held opinion.

          • Accountable October 1, 2015 at 8:43 pm

            In an effort to keep your mormon hatred and prejudice relevant, you have made yourself a fool. An antiquated practice of young and/or multiple wives doesn’t compare in the slightest to any one of a number of atrocities occurring in the world today — there are too many to list here.

            In answer to your ignorant statements about catholic abuses, during the pope’s visit on September 26, 2015: Francis stated he has decided on a new vatican tribunal to prosecute bishops who cover up abuse and shield pedophile priests INSTEAD OF TURNING THEM OVER TO THE POLICE. The church continues to spend millions of dollars to fight sexual abuse lawsuits and to keep sealed the names of thousands of accused priests, as well as the outcomes of disciplinary cases sent to the vatican. The major aggravating factors are the actions of catholic church to keep these crimes secret and unpunished and that they reassign the accused to other parishes in positions where they have continued unsupervised contact with youth.

            Obviously you have internet access, do your research.

          • Accountable October 1, 2015 at 9:14 pm

            READ and COMPREHEND all of my comments. My concerns are over ALL of the atrocities CURRENTLY happening — not only catholic.

            Sgt.1st Class Charles Martland, a Green Beret Bronze Star recipient, is being forced out of the U.S. Army by NOVEMBER 1, 2015 because he protected a boy from rape. This is happening NOW.

            Thousands of men, women, and children have been executed by ISIS since it declared itself a state under strict Islamic law in Syria and Iraq last June, since the jihadist army established its caliphate. This is happening NOW.

            There are so many more horrible things happening in the world ….

            Try to pull your head out of your *fishbowl* and put things into perspective.

          • Roy J October 2, 2015 at 10:37 am

            ACCOUNTABLE,

            To someone who has only cursory knowledge of the Catholic Church, you might sound knowledgeable. But, to someone who has something more than surface knowledge, you sound pretty ignorant. This response isn’t any better than your ‘raping with impunity’. I’d start citing the cases from Canada and the U.S. from the last 100 years to explain this to you, but that would be a waste of my time. You’re not likely to know the difference between a case like that of Segundo Llorente or those of Xiu Hui Jang. You are probably unaware of the current statistics of documented sexual abuse by Christian clergy in general, and how the percentages of other denominations measure up to those of the Roman Catholic clergy. Oh well, it’s true, I do have the Internet, I guess that makes me special.

      • Roy J September 30, 2015 at 8:49 pm

        ACCOUNTABLE,
        That’s probably because there are never any articles on the sexual abuse by predatory Roman Catholic priests in Washington County, probably because there aren’t any here. Also, although pedophiles, child molesters, rapists, philanders, etc, etc, etc, have belonged to every religious and non-religious creed known to man the world over, and have pedophiled, child molested, raped, and philandered in spite of what those creeds may have taught contrary to their actions. But the reason you see so much about the Mormons here is because: a.) It’s the local culture and town gossip, and b.) there’s an apparent and fundamental contradiction between what was doctrinal and practiced before and what is doctrinal and practiced now. Roman Catholicism has never doctrinally supported polygamy (or moderate fornication, if you will), formal decrees at a synod in the 7th century made clear the monogamous Catholic teaching on marriage, while more recently St. John Paul II elaborated on the subject in his papal encyclical ‘Familiaris consortio’. So…not a Catholic town with Catholic gossip annnnd Catholics never played dogmatic reversal card with respects to polygamy.

    • Ladyk October 1, 2015 at 12:43 am

      Something tells me there are a few girls in your past who might have some interesting facts about your behavior. Before spewing your nonsense get the facts. Most marriages happened when girls were very young. Things we would never do now we’re mainstream by people during those times. It didn’t matter what church they went to or if they went to one at all. Careful your bigotry is showing. Grow up already!

  • Terry September 30, 2015 at 4:51 pm

    John 1:1 nuff said

    • 42214 September 30, 2015 at 5:27 pm

      Who’s John?

      • Terry October 1, 2015 at 8:45 am

        That’s the Problem with People, Who’s John? Open the Bible, poor soul

        • 42214 October 1, 2015 at 1:35 pm

          No Terry, the problem with alot of people is their self-annoited righteousness because they are holier than thou. It’s make you feel superior to pity someone, by all means have at it. Glad I could lift your spirits.

          • Terry October 2, 2015 at 8:15 am

            I’m not LDS number, you can not lift my Spirits, Save but Him only✌?️

    • fun bag September 30, 2015 at 5:44 pm

      I don’t think John ever said “nuff said”, did he?

  • .... September 30, 2015 at 9:16 pm

    John 1:2 party on.!

  • 42214 September 30, 2015 at 11:02 pm

    Booyah! Accountable, you just gor you glutieus maximus handed to you by Roy. Care to come out of your quilting room and comment?

    • fun bag October 1, 2015 at 3:16 pm

      YEP, ‘ACCOUNTABLES’ JUST GOT B-SLAPPED HARD BY ROY, GOOD ONE ROY :d

  • JOSH DALTON October 1, 2015 at 12:11 pm

    I wonder if any acknowledgement was given to the fact that The Mormons are actually Jewish. They just don’t like to admit it. Just like most Christians don’t want to admit they are Jews as well. NEWS FLASH-Jesus was a Jew! So don’t hate!

    • Roy J October 1, 2015 at 12:44 pm

      A Mormon in Hebron!?! It’s news to the Jews….XD

Leave a Reply