The Brethren Are Not Always Right

With the recent handbook leak and everyone on social media sharing their two cents about not letting the children of gay couples get baptized, I’ve noticed I’ve been rolling my eyes a lot more frequently as I read my news feed. And honestly, I’m not that interested in this recent drama, so I’m not going to go into my opinion of this rule. But the thing that has bothered me is the responses of so many of my TBM friends saying stuff like “we need to trust the Lord’s time,” or “I follow the prophet who speaks directly to God and so I know this is what God wants,” or “I am just so grateful to be a part of a church that is led by a prophet of God who can receive revelation from God and not be influenced by what is popular.”

It makes me sad that I used to think these exact same things without ever questioning the brethren. The culture of the Mormon church is so much into hero worship of its leaders that so many people don’t even bother to think through issues for themselves. They rob themselves the opportunity of forming their own informed opinions. (I am generalizing here. I know a few church members who truly do wrestle with some of the policies and teachings of the church, but they are few and far between, in my experience.)

When I started to find out about some of the messy history of the church, I finally allowed myself to ask “what if the leaders were/are wrong?” I cannot express how freeing it was to simply allow that thought into my mind. One particular issue that I had always been uneasy about as a TBM was polygamy. I would explain it away by saying things like “I don’t know why the Lord commanded it, but it must have been important at the time because he would never let the prophet lead the church astray,” or “There are so many things that God comprehends that we cannot even begin to understand, and this is one of those things so I will just trust the Lord.” But at the same time, I remember telling my husband before we got married that I didn’t think I would be okay with practicing polygamy in the afterlife. The thought of eternal polygamy was very heartbreaking to me, but I sucked it up, and trusted that the Lord had a plan for me and I would follow it.

So when I read the stories about Joseph Smith’s polygamy, I was horribly conflicted. The prophet that I had been taught to revere and love and respect was not the man I had learned about in Sunday school. The two biggest issues I have with polygamy (there are way more than 2, but these are the ones that really make my blood boil!) are that Joseph kept a lot of it hidden from Emma, and that he claimed an angel with a sword threatened to destroy him if he didn’t marry certain women. I read many apologist essays on the topic of polygamy, but when I was all researched out, it came down to 2 conclusions:

Either Joseph Smith lied about the angel threatening his destruction or he was telling the truth.

If he lied, then that is not a man I want to have anything to do with. There is no excuse.

If he told the truth, then that is not a God I want to have anything to do with. There is no excuse.

To me, Mormon doctrines (past and present) about polygamy are a deal breaker. The prophet Joseph Smith was wrong. The prophets who have tried to cover it up are wrong. The prophets who defend it are wrong. I cannot hear (or read) someone say that they trust the prophet no matter what without feeling sick about polygamy. I want my friends and family who are still in the church to wake up and make their own decisions. Maybe they will decide that they agree with the decisions of the brethren and maybe they will disagree. But I just wish they felt free to disagree. As distressing as it has been to leave the church, it has been equally heartening to gain the liberation and confidence to form my own opinions about issues without guilt. And that is something I hope all members of the church can experience someday.