How you can believe Joseph Smith was a prophet without understanding polygamy
The LDS Church renounced polygamy in 1890 (or 1904 depending on how you look at it). You can read all about that stuff HERE. The point is, it's been over for more than 100 years.
But that doesn't make me feel any better about it. The idea of polygamy makes me want to vomit.
If God himself appeared to me an asked me to practice polygamy, I would plead with him for mercy and ask "is there no other way?"
A lot of LDS women feel this way, or variations of it. The disgust for it can run so deep it can leave a big whole of doubt in our testimonies of the Gospel or of Joseph Smith.
So lets talk about it.
You can look at any polygamous family tree and see that it was definitely a useful tool in building up a lot of born and bred church members. Or in other words, it was effective in raising up a righteous generation.
But what about those wives? What about sex?
When the show Sister Wives came out, I eventually took an interest and watched an episode. And then another, and another, and another. As a member of the LDS Church I was fascinated by the practice of polygamy of this offshoot group that practices polygamy based on the teachings of Joseph Smith.
Let's be clear, we're not the same church. They say that over and over on the show. They aren't LDS. Current polygamists with ties to Joseph Smith are all offshoot religions that split back in 1890-1904.
At first I watched like it was some sort of horror show. I'm embarrassed about that. It's not exactly a kind thing to do. They are real people after all. After a few episodes I started to see something besides horror. I started to see how my LDS Church ancestors might have benefited from polygamy. And that made me feel pretty weird. I saw how the women have to overcome things like pride and jealousy. Over the episodes, the Sister Wives earned my respect. Maybe polygamy can help you develop Christ-like attributes. They had a wonderful built in support system. There was a lot of love shown in their families. One wife was only able to have one child. Because of her polygamous family, her daughter had siblings and she was able to be a mother to many. I'm sure the Sister Wives aren't perfect, but it gave me a glimpse of how polygamy in the early days of the church might have worked and been a good thing.
Obviously not all polygamous families are this way. I don't have to look further than Warren Jeffs to feel the vomit coming up again. I suspect this is how it was back then too. Maybe for some men it was about the sex. Maybe it was about controlling women. But maybe for others it was a struggle. Maybe it taught some men patience, long-suffering, and other wonderful attributes.
They say Joseph Smith had up to 30 wives. My first reaction is vomit. But then I slap myself and say, "but Joseph Smith was not Warren Jeffs." I read the Book of Mormon and I feel it. I feel that it is true. Joseph Smith did that. I read the account of the first vision and my soul is stunned. That was Joseph Smith. I go to the temple and I feel the presence of God. Joseph Smith did that. I may have never met Joseph Smith, but I kind of know him. I've seen what has come from him.
I honestly don't understand Joseph Smith and polygamy, or any of my ancestors or early church members and their polygamous relationships for that matter. It feels so wrong to me, and maybe that is a good thing because that isn't what we are supposed to do anymore. I don't understand it, and maybe I never will.
When the vomit starts to rise, I have to remember what I do know. I know those good feelings. I trust those good feelings. I have to remember all the times in my own life where I wonder what in the world God is thinking, and then later I see that it has all worked out for the best. I can't explain polygamy to anyone. I can't defend the practice. But I can explain what I do know. I know that Joseph Smith was a prophet. And I know that God works in mysterious ways. I won't always understand Him or His ways, but I know that He will always be right.
I believe that Joseph Smith was a prophet of God. And polygamy still makes me want to vomit. And that's okay.