The Irrational World of Brian Hales’ Polygamy (Part I)


By Johnny Stephenson & Jeremy Runnells

Introduction

It appears that plural marriage is gospel meat that can only be understood by those who have sufficiently prepared themselves in faith and knowledge. ~Brian Hales

Ok. There you have it. If you don’t have sufficient “faith and knowledge” it appears that you are doomed to misunderstand everything about Joseph Smith and his practice of polygamy according to Brian Hales. So for all of you that are not members of the Mormon Church—it appears that you’re just out of luck. No matter what you read or no matter what your comprehension skills; it won’t do you any good because this is “gospel meat” and not meant to be understood by the unworthy. You know, the whole ”pearls before swine” thing.

The desperation of such an argument speaks for itself. So, is there some kind of faith and knowledge meter that can tell a person if they have finally arrived at a place where they can understand Joseph Smith’s practice of polygamy—because according to many faithful Mormons, they don’t understand it either.  (Even those who have been in the Church for many, many years). Perhaps they might, if the faithful could only look at the evidence without all the apologetic interpretation of those like Brian Hales, who seem to be the only ones proclaiming that this is hard to understand without some kind of special spiritual “preparation”.

In our estimation anyone who claims that a person cannot understand something without some kind of “preparation” and special “knowledge” has already shown that their conclusions cannot be reached by any reasonable method used by the public at large (like simply reading and evaluating the evidence with common sense).  We understand that there is a difference between faith and understanding, and that one does not necessarily hinge on the other. When it comes to the supernatural, of course some people believe in those things, but that doesn’t preclude anyone from understanding the claims made by those who do. At least we think so and are pretty sure we can show you why.

For example, must a psychiartrist experience schitzophrenia to understand what it is and treat it? Criminal profilers are often very accurate in their assessment and character of who committed crimes, but do they have to be criminals themselves to understand them and give an accurate profile?

What this really means (in our humble estimation) is that apologists like Brian Hales are trying to control the narrative.  (Which it appears he certainly has tried very hard to do, even going so far as to question the friendship of those that do not use the research he pushes on them). But what price must one pay to do so? Embrace hypocrisy and folk tales, folk tales that aren’t even contemporary with the period of time they were supposed to originate in?

For example, we think that one can easily understand (without any special preparation and knowledge) why stories began circulating a decade after Joseph Smith died that he was so repulsed by polygamy and only began to practice it because he was threatened by an angel with a sword who commanded him to do so or die—and this in direct contradiction of all that Smith ever taught about free agency.  We think people get that. It makes Smith look more reluctant to embrace his spiritual wifeism (the correct term used by Joseph Smith and Brigham Young and others for what later became plural or celestial marriage) and therefore appear more “prophet-like” in the eyes of his apologists and ardent followers who are understandably uncomfortable with the thought of a Warren Jeffs-like “prophet” as the founder of their religion.

Unfortunately, for those who put their faith in such folktales, there is no evidence that this story was ever related by anyone in the lifetime of Joseph Smith; there are only some late accounts that begin about a decade after he died. This folktale also turns the Mormon God into the Mormon Satan—who wanted to force everyone to do what they were told so they could become “gods”.  This may “prepare” the Mormon base of believers to accept Smith’s teachings and actions about his spiritul wifeism; but it doesn’t do much (in our estimation) for the credibility of those propagating such folk tales.

It doesn’t take special “preparation and knowledge” to understand when there isn’t any evidence and that something is in all likelihood a folk tale. Yet that doesn’t stop some from repeating folklore as if it were reality and denigrating those that don’t agree with the apologetic conclusions they come up with because they think this will take some of the heat off of Joseph Smith’s practice of polygamy.

It sure didn’t stop the Church from including this particular folk tale (the angel of death) in one of their Essays recently added to the Gospel Topics page at lds.org.  Of course, the story of the angel and the sword that appears in the new Essay titled “Plural Marriage in Kirtland and Nauvoo” was mysteriously transformed into an angel of “encouragement”, and the Essay doesn’t give the reader any references or sources as to why they transform the angel, except a hyperlink to an article by Brian Hales—who is referenced half a dozen times in the Essay and who we suspect wrote or contributed to it.

In the above mentioned Essay it states that this tale is what Joseph Smith “told” some “associates”. It also states that “fragmentary evidence” declares that Smith was first commanded by God to practice polygamy with Fanny Alger, but this would be before Smith (according to his own teachings) had authority to do so.

Welcome folks, to the irrational world of Brian Hales’ polygamy.

This Essay was begun in the summer of 2014 and completed by the Spring of 2015, with further editing and additions made from April, 2015 to January, 2018. Jeremy made a promise to give a response to Brian Hales’ many accusations against him about the information in the CES Letter and elsewhere, and enlisted the aid of Johnny Stephenson in crafting a reply. This reply is filled with media and notes, some of them individual essays in and of themselves and so it took us many years to finish. Here is Part I, and subsequent parts (II-IV) will be published in two week intervals. ~Jeremy Runnells & Johnny Stephenson, August, 2018.

Nauvoo, by David Hyrum Smith

Part I: Sticks and Stones

Remember the old adage, ‘Sticks and stones will break my bones, but words will never harm me’.  True courage consists in doing what is right, despite the jeers and sneers of our companions. ~The Christian Recorder, March 1862.

In the ongoing debate over how Joseph Smith’s polygamy is being interpreted by Mormon apologists, historians and critics, we have Brian Hales (josephsmithspolygamy.org) contributing an article on July 15, 2014 sarcastically titled,  “Jeremy Runnells—the New Expert on Joseph Smith’s Polygamy?”[1]

CLICK to go to CES LETTER

Jeremy Runnells is the author of the CES LETTER, which was published on the internet in April, 2013 after he wrote the original.[2] It included many of his concerns about the Mormon Church, and subsequently went “viral” on the internet.  The letter by Runnells has many Mormon apologists very concerned about its contents and soon after Jeremy published it FAIRMORMON (an organized group of Mormon apologists) wrote a response to Runnells’ concerns in the letter,[3] to which Runnells’ has responded.[4]

It is a section on Polygamy in Jeremy’s response titled Debunking FAIR’s Debunking that Brian Hales addresses in the above mentioned article posted on the Rational Faith’s Blog.[5] Unfortunately, Hales sarcastic attempt to cast doubt on Jeremy’s effort does not really address many of his concerns about Joseph Smith’s polygamy; instead Hales uses this article to attack and try to defame Jeremy Runnells—and promote his website.

Among other things, what is really troubling to us is this reply by Brian Hales in response to a comment about the article he posted at Rational Faiths on July 17, 2014:

Frankly, I’ve never been a fan of labels like “apologist” and “anti-Mormon.” I think people resort to labels when they run out of evidence to support their positions. I have invited Jeremy to defend his interpretation of Joseph Smith’s involvement with plural marriage. I don’t expect to change his current convictions (but I wish he would for his sake). I do believe that he and many other writers have used assumptions, misrepresentations, and half-truths to support their claims. The way for everyone to win (even though we will undoubtedly not agree) is for Jeremy and me to use documentation and less rhetoric in explaining and defending out interpretations. That is the challenge.[6]

After publishing the sarcastic response to Runnells on July 15, 2014; and some other comments on July 17, where he states that the way to “win” is to use more documentation and less rhetoric; Mr. Hales took it one step further and published an interesting bit of fiction on his website Blog  (which is sandwiched among all of the apologetics that attempt to defend and prop up the practice of polygamy by Joseph Smith) on July 30, 2014, which is titled:

“’There Began to be Lyings Sent Forth among the People’: The Message of Jeremy Runnells”[7]

Hales also made sure to publish it again (himself) on FAIRMORMON’s Blog,[8] and this he did on August 4, 2014.

So much for more documentation and less rhetoric.  Hales also said he was waiting for a response from Jeremy, but I guess he couldn’t really resist slinging more rhetoric while he waited.

Right off the bat, Hales pumps up the derogatory rhetoric by calling Jeremy names and claiming that his “message” is simply “lyings” send forth from Satan; who Brian Hales seems to think is the puppet master of almost every critic of the Mormon Church. This coming from someone who claims to be a defender of Joseph Smith and is critical of any who conclude the same thing about the Mormon “prophet” (that he is a liar or con-man—though not necessarily a tool of Satan).[9]  All we could think of when we read this was “Did he really just say that?” But Hales did, and he appears to be serious. Hales begins by quoting the Book of Mormon:

And it came to pass that from this time forth [when the star appeared at the birth of Christ] there began to be lyings sent forth among the people, by Satan, to harden their hearts, to the intent that they might not believe in those signs and wonders which they had seen… [10]

Automatically, we have Jeremy’s intent: “to harden hearts” so that “they might not believe.”  But Jeremy was initially asking for answers. It seems that in Hales’ irrational world that this is an agenda inspired by Satan to turn people away from Mormonism.  Hales adds, “The sending forth of “lyings” is not a new phenomenon.” Hales then goes back to Genesis—to Satan and Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden—as if this is somehow relevant to Jeremy Runnells’ concerns about Smith’s polygamy and other issues.

Of course Hales believes that anyone who is not a good Mormon like he obviously must be, (since he is “qualified” to teach about Joseph Smith by having the Priesthood and a “testimony” of Smith) disqualifies them from writing about Mormonism.[11]  So Hales basic problem with Runnells seems to be that he tells lies from Satan and he isn’t “authorized” to teach.  Hales’ focus here isn’t on the evidence, but seems to be trying to make it appear that Jeremy is some kind of sock puppet of Satan.

Right away, Hales tries to poison the well for any Mormon that might want to read what Runnells is so concerned about by claiming that Jeremy is a liar.

This is the same tactic that Hales and Gregory L. Smith used at the Mormon Interpreter on Grant Palmer, which is documented in Note #1 below, although with a little more subtlety.

Setting down the groundwork for the attack to come, Hales then states:

Recently Jeremy Runnells wrote two articles, “Letter to a CES Director: Why I Lost My Testimony” and “Debunking FAIR’s Debunking,” where he outlines his reasons for his current disbelief. I analyzed his statements regarding plural marriage in a short essay entitled “Jeremy Runnells—the New Expert on Joseph Smith’s Polygamy?” There I examine his primary claims and methodology, of which I am quite critical.[12]

Quite critical? Hales went much farther than being “quite critical”. First, the Letter to a CES Director was not originally an article, though it was eventually expanded and updated from the original.  (Because it was a list of concerns about material Jeremy had gleaned from many different sources). What Hales claims here though, (that he has examined Runnells’ primary claims in “Debunking FAIR”) is not true. Hales simply takes a couple of cheap shots at Runnells by using an example or two from Jeremy’s lengthy treatment of Smith’s polygamy, which he (Hales) then completely bungles with his “frequent use of polemical red-herrings to undermine historical evidence he dislikes”.[13]

We will address those treatments by Hales below.  In the comments attached to that Blog Article at Rational Faiths, Hales writes,

In 3 Nephi 1:22 we read: “And it came to pass that from this time forth there began to be lyings sent forth among the people” and so it seems to be today. That is how I would classify Runnells treatment of Joseph Smith’s polygamy. How can we identify a lie? Perhaps reading the original documents would help.[14]

It was this comment that Hales subsequently turned into a primarily ad hominem attack on his website.

For someone who has claimed to have read “the latest research”, I (Johnny) can say with assurance that in his case, it doesn’t help Hales at all. Why? Because I and others who have also thoroughly studied Smith’s practice of polygamy (like Jeremy Runnells) can show that Hales analysis of the documents is flawed by his determination to misconstrue that evidence in an effort to protect Hales idealistic representation of Joseph Smith.  D. Michael Quinn called what Hales does a “closed system of logic”.[15]

But before I get into that, let’s get back to the lying thing.  How does Hales show/prove that Jeremy is a liar? (Which would be the point, wouldn’t it?) Hales states on his website:

Jeremy Runnells reflects confidence in his interpretations and satisfaction in his aggressive antagonism of the Church and its teachings. He is obviously entitled to his own opinions and to believe whatever voices he chooses to believe. However, it may be possible to see in him and in his actions, a process as old as Adam and as predictable as the sunset turning into the blackness of night.[16]

As we see above, Hales doesn’t show Jeremy to be a liar—he does something worse, he slanders his name with no proof at all. He then likens Jeremy and his concerns about Mormonism “to a process as old as Adam” which he describes with cheap dime store novel rhetoric.  Hales then quotes a Mormon “Authority” to try and give his pulp fiction weight (at least in his mind):

Apostle Neal Maxwell

Church members will live in this wheat-and-tares situation until the Millennium. Some real tares even masquerade as wheat, including the few eager individuals who lecture the rest of us about Church doctrines in which they no longer believe. They criticize the use of Church resources to which they no longer contribute. They condescendingly seek to counsel the Brethren whom they no longer sustain. Confrontive, [sic] except of themselves, of course, they leave the Church, but they cannot leave the Church alone. Like the throng on the ramparts of the “great and spacious building,” they are intensely and busily preoccupied, pointing fingers of scorn at the steadfast iron-rodders (1 Ne. 8:26–28, 33). Considering their ceaseless preoccupation, one wonders, “Is there no diversionary activity available to them, especially in such a large building—like a bowling alley?” Perhaps in their mockings and beneath the stir are repressed doubts of their doubts. In any case, given the perils of popularity, Brigham Young advised that this “people must be kept where the finger of scorn can be pointed at them.”[17]

It’s all so simple to Hales via Maxwell isn’t it? If you ask for questions and seek answers but do not get them and you are not satisfied and make this known, you are a “tare” who by even questioning the leadership of the Church are now “pointing the finger of scorn”?

Here we have Hales (through Neal Maxwell) claiming that Jeremy Runnells is masquerading as something he is not. First, what is Maxwell getting at here? His whole speech was about what he calls “the harvest from permissiveness”.  About “living ethically without God” and replacing a “just and moral order” with “disorder and confusion”.

Maxwell acts like the Mormon people are the only ones who have ever had the finger of scorn pointed at them.[18] Maxwell’s solution is for members to shut up and play follow the leader (become “like a child”) because no matter what, the “brethren” are right and you are wrong because you dared to ask questions or question their teachings. You are all children and we (the “Lord’s Anointed”) are the adults.[19]

Did Jeremy Runnells proclaim such things? Not at all. What Jeremy did was to write down all of the concerns that he had about the Church from a variety of sources, and then ask for help from a church “authority” to answer them.  What help did Jeremy get from the church? He got none at all, even though he was promised answers.

Maxwell talks about those who criticize the church who no longer believe in it, but if you criticize the history or doctrine of the Church as a believer, you can be disciplined or excommunicated for doing so; something that Jeremy also had questions about in his Letter, but which the Mormon Hierarchy didn’t bother to answer.  Maxwell also says that such people are,

Confrontive, [sic] except of themselves, of course, they leave the Church, but they cannot leave the Church alone.[20]

This is one of the most hackneyed apologist lines ever invented and that never seems to get old with them.  And now that Mormon “authorities” have picked it up and are spewing it out to the public in General Conferences, it is one we may never hear the end of. Who can’t leave who alone? When Jeremy’s letter (to his great surprise) went viral, who was it that came after him? FAIRMORMON, and apologists like Daniel C. Peterson and Brian Hales. Hales even says in his ad hominem on Jeremy:

“When lyings gain traction in the media, sometimes due to the efforts of individuals like Jeremy…”[21]

So is this what Brian Hales is concerned about: “Traction in the media”? It seems like it is, because this is the focus of his article. Didn’t Hales say that this was all about the evidence? Instead, he mockingly claims that Jeremy has propped himself up as the new “expert” on polygamy—when Jeremy did nothing of the kind .

Could Brian Hales simply be jealous? He certainly attacks a lot of people that never mention him at all, but do write or speak about polygamy. Does Hales think that he is the expert on polygamy because he printed up some documents that he had a research assistant gather together—to which he added some inane apologetic commentary? Or perhaps Brian and Laura Hales consider themselves the Internet Police when it comes to Joseph Smith’s polygamy?[22]

We don’t make this claim (that their commentary is inanely apologetic) lightly. Many of Hales’ arguments are illogical and incomprehensible, as will be shown below. One of the more ridiculous arguments is self evident in its ridiculousness: that Jeremy Runnells is some kind of Sock Puppet of Satan, and that in response (apparently), God is using Brian C. Hales to expose him to the world.

It seems that Hales only wants to denigrate Jeremy, because all he does is make a few baseless and trivial objections to what Jeremy has written about polygamy in his rebuttal to FAIRMORMON—who he then calls a liar. Hales then leaves it at that, with no credible evidence at all to back up his cowardly attack.  He then directs his audience to go to his website, which promotes his books.

The Hales pattern of behavior is self evident: 1) Set themselves up as the Internet Police regarding Joseph Smith’s Polygamy, 2) Insert themselves into Polygamy discussions or respond to Blogs and Articles, 3) Shamelessly promote their website and books.

As for those who leave the church but can’t leave it alone, this comment was brought to our attention recently:

“You can leave the church, but you can’t leave it alone.”

What about a kidnapping survivor that wants to devote their time and efforts to educate and bring awareness to others?

What about a former gang member that wants to devote their time and efforts to educate and bring awareness to others?

What about a mentally and physically abused wife that wants to devote her time and efforts to educate and bring awareness to others?

What about a rape victim that wants to devote her time and efforts to educate and bring awareness to others?

What about a recovering drug addict that wants to devote their time and efforts to educate and bring awareness to others?

What about a cancer survivor or family of someone that has lost their life to cancer and they want to devote their time and efforts to educate and bring awareness to others?[23]

It is obvious that this is exactly what the Mormon Hierarchy and their apologists want: for their critics to simply leave them alone so they can be in control of as much information about the Church as possible. If not, then why would Hales include that quote by Maxwell in a follow up hit piece on Jeremy when it doesn’t apply to his situation at all?

And since many of the critics of Mormonism are Ex-Mormons (including the authors of this article) who understand the Church very well; of course Mormon apologists have to twist their (the Ex-Mormons) experience into something it is not and never was as they accuse them of being obsessed with the Church after they leave it. There is no love here for the “lost sheep” in our opinion; neither is there any real concern over the pain that it must cause to those who do leave the church. All that is swept aside as they are transformed into lying “Anti-Mormon” Agents of Satan. Hales sporadic platitudes of sympathy mean little in the light of these kinds of attacks.

What Maxwell does not do, what these men (Mormon General Authorities) never seem to do, is give a real sympathetic ear to those who continue to have (after getting unsatisfactory or no answers from Mormon leaders at the Ward and Stake level) legitimate problems with the Church’s History and Doctrine. They don’t seem to understand the concept of the “lost sheep”. Instead they produce anonymous Essays (in an effort to do damage control) and spout platitudes like “your questions will all be answered in the next life,” which is really no answer at all.

Jeremy Runnells

This is what happened to Jeremy Runnells, a faithful member of the Church who originally wrote up a 60 page document about all of the doctrinal and historical concerns he had, which he then sent off to an “authority” to answer, pleading for help. Yet, his concerns were ignored.

If after this you leave the Church and talk about your experience, and it becomes viral you may finally get a response, but not from any “authorities”—who seemingly couldn’t care less about you until they have their lackeys drag you into a church court for “apostasy”.

But because the Church dropped the ball and you made it public, you are condemned by the Church’s apologists (because no one in authority will address your concerns) as an “apostate” who can’t leave the Church alone because you felt that you must defend yourself from their attacks! You are then labeled as a liar, because you dared to try and rebut all of the accusations against you and your concerns about the Church by those same pontificating Mormon apologists, chief among them Brian Hales, Kevin Christensen, Stephen O. Smoot and Daniel C. Peterson. They have even devoted a website to attack Jeremy, and are now producing YouTube Videos.

All the while the Church itself washes its hands of the whole affair but then begins posting anonymous essays on their official website dealing with some of the very issues that went viral because of your letter—that they still won’t “officially” answer themselves.

Jeremy Runnells did get a response, but not one made in love and understanding. It was an ugly response that makes one question the very ethics of the Hierarchy of the Mormon Church and those who claim to defend it. At Rational Faiths faithful Brian Hales writes:

Of course Runnells is entitled to his own views, but when individuals attempt to expound and defend a specific historical interpretation before the public, it seems it would be wise to familiarize themselves with the latest research on the topic. Otherwise, they may perpetuate incomplete or deceptive arguments. Such persons should probably expect that their historical reconstruction will be critiqued by scholars who have also studied the same subject. It appears that Runnells’ accounts and criticisms of Joseph Smith’s polygamy reflect important weaknesses. But even more unfortunate is the apparent fact that Runnells is himself unaware of those weaknesses.[24]

Hales makes sure to get this in before he ever starts critiquing any of Runnells’ section on polygamy in their FAIRMORMON rebuttal.  An honest person writing about another person’s work would perhaps have said something like, “Otherwise they may perpetuate incomplete or incorrect arguments.”

Only someone with an agenda to slander someone else would have used the word deceptive, which implies dishonesty.  This would be acceptable if it was true, but we can show that it is not, therefore it is simply slander.

Disbelieving the claims of Joseph Smith (in part because the Church has no answers to very troubling questions) and disapproval of the practice of polygamy (among other things) in Brian Hales irrational world makes one a Sockpuppet of Satan.  But almost everyone has questions and seeks answers. If Brian Hales is so concerned about Jeremy (as he claims), then why go to these lengths to vilify him before he even gets Runnells’ response to his accusations?

Hales is also trying to claim that Jeremy Runnells isn’t using the “correct” method to obtain his answers.  Let’s go back to that quote by Hales again:

Frankly, I’ve never been a fan of labels like “apologist” and “anti-Mormon.” I think people resort to labels when they run out of evidence to support their positions. I have invited Jeremy to defend his interpretation of Joseph Smith’s involvement with plural marriage. I don’t expect to change his current convictions (but I wish he would for his sake). I do believe that he and many other writers have used assumptions, misrepresentations, and half-truths to support their claims. The way for everyone to win (even though we will undoubtedly not agree) is for Jeremy and me to use documentation and less rhetoric in explaining and defending out interpretations. That is the challenge.

Is this what Hales did with Jeremy (use documentation to rebut his concerns)? Not really. He personally attacked him and called him a liar and an Agent of Satan.  (And he did so AFTER he made the comment above). So is Brian Hales sincere in his effort to explain and defend his position? We must say given the evidence above he is not, but has already made up his mind about Jeremy and has closed his mind to anything but his own invented narrative.  Notice also the words that Hales uses to describe the “many other writers” that don’t agree with Hales conclusions. They “misrepresent”, which is “the action or offense of giving a false or misleading account of the nature of something.” It’s all about malice with Hales because they don’t agree with him.

That still leaves us with those token rebuttals of Hales, to which we can add information from his website and other published works.  That is where I (Johnny) came in. Not having had much interaction with Jeremy before this, I was troubled when I first heard about and read Hales initial attack on Jeremy and offered my help in crafting a response. It has taken years of intensive research by the both of us to do so.

Hales loves to claim (about others) that they come to their conclusions based on assumptions, misrepresentations and half-truths.  That is quite a claim to try and support—let’s see if he can make that stick to Jeremy and if the evidence supports Hales’ own irrational conclusions.  We’ll let you—the interested readers—decide if Hales has been successful in making his case.

Notes to Part I: Sticks and Stones

[1] Hales’ article may be found here online, accessed October 10, 2014, hereafter cited as Hales, Rational Faiths.

During the first part of October, 2014, Brian Hales along with Gregory L. Smith (another Mormon Apologist) recently co-authored another hit piece—on Grant Palmer, in which they use the same deplorable tactics there as Brian Hales does with Jeremy Runnells.

Hales & Smith claim in this new character assassination article that Palmer has “represented the historical data” both “poorly” and that by advancing factual inaccuracies, quoting sources without establishing their credibility, and that by ignoring contradictory evidences he has manifested superficial research techniques that fail to account for the “latest scholarship” [which would be Hales own of course]. This will sound very familiar after reading what Hales wrote about Jeremy Runnells, Alex Beam and John Dehlin.

To show the ridiculousness of Hales and Smith’s assertions against Palmer, one need only read this quotation below where they describe what they deem a very “problematic issue”:

  1. Factual inaccuracies. For example, on page 8 he speaks of a man, “Benjamin F. Winchester,” but there is no such person. Church history participants included “Benjamin F. Johnson” and “Benjamin Winchester” but no “Benjamin F. Winchester.” This might seem a nitpicky criticism, but it is an example of how poorly Palmer’s essay has been constructed and edited. It also suggests a reliance on secondary sources rather than a consultation of the original documents.

However, at FAIRMORMON Gregory L. Smith makes the same mistake, (online here, but changed by Smith after he was called on it – see my screenshot) and so because of what Brian Hales nitpicks, should we assume that they too have all of the same problems that Hales attributes to Grant Palmer? Hales wants his audience to believe that because Palmer included the middle initial that Van Wagoner used in Mormon Polygamy, he also is simply not reading the primary sources.  I guess Hales isn’t either.

This is simply another one of Hales’ (and Smith’s) many silly strawman arguments which all of his articles and essays are full of. This of course does not negate Winchester’s contributions to Mormon History; but is simply a ploy of Hales and Smith to discredit Palmer before they even assess his article.

We will find Hales using this same tactic with Jeremy Runnells. What is even more ironic, Gregory L. Smith identifies Winchester with the middle initial “F” in a big bold header in this FAIRMORMON Article (not a citation) he posted on their wiki page.  He also uses Benjamin F. Winchester in a footnote that was lifted from Van Wagoner’s work, and since the original source does not have the middle initial, how could Van Wagoner “cite” a person that (according to Hales and Smith) doesn’t exist? (This has since been corrected by Smith).

Hales and Smith also actually tried to accuse Richard Van Wagoner of plagiarism, but when I brought these mistakes up (which they must consider as plagiarism also, right?) in my comments at the Mormon Interpreter, they deleted my comments.  Smith also used the middle initial “F” for Benjamin Winchester on the “Other Accounts” section of “Mormonism and Temples”, (see screenshot above) which has also since been changed.

In fact, Hales himself also uses the middle initial “F” in one of his polygamy articles for The Journal of Mormon History, (Fall 2009) issue. On page 167 he uses the same citation that Grant Palmer does in his article, “Benjamin F. Winchester, “Primitive Mormonism—Personal Narrative of It,” Salt Lake Tribune, September 22, 1889, 2.” 

Hales doesn’t mention any discrepancies there at all, and uses this as a legitimate source quotation. He doesn’t cite Van Wagoner at all, which is where he must have gotten it from, since the original source does not have the middle initial. Must we therefore conclude that Hales also produces poorly constructed essays and relies on secondary sources for his information? Did he then plagiarize this from Van Wagoner? This is silly stuff folks, but part of their irrational world.

For more information see the Discussion, “Grant Palmer is Attacked by Brian Hales and Gregory L. Smith”, at Mormon Discussions,  posted on October 13, 2014, Online here, by grindael/Johnny Stephenson, accessed October 17, 2014.

At the Mormon Interpreter, only one comment by me was approved, but then the response by Gregory L. Smith and my comment were mysteriously deleted the next day. They did not bother to respond to any of my subsequent comments. This is their modus operandi, to smear those who don’t agree with them, and never let their fan base or “believing” audience see them get embarrassed by the evidence that knowledgeable Historians can and do present. My comments and reply by Smith are included in the Mormon Discussions Post from October 13, 2014 mentioned above.

Addendum: Hales also had a Facebook Conversation with Dan Vogel that rose (slightly) above these tactics which to his credit he posted on his website, but Hales still employs ad homenim towards Dan, and continues to use hypocritical tactics with the evidence. We have included and addressed some of these comments in this Essay, and have answered Hales’ last comment to Dan Vogel in Note #30.

[2]  Jeremy Runnells, “CES Letter,” PDF, online here, accessed September 1, 2014, hereafter “Runnells, CES”.

[3] FAIRMORMON, “Criticism of Mormonism,” online  here, accessed September 1, 2014.

[4] Jeremy Runnells, Debunking FAIRMORMON, PDF online here, accessed October 20, 2014, hereafter “Runnells, Deunking.”

[5] Runnells, Debunking, “Polygamy-Polyandry”, online here, accessed October 20, 2014.

[6] Hales, Rational Faiths, op. cited.

[7]  Brian Hales, “There Began to be Lyings Sent Forth Among the People—The Message of Jeremy Runnells”, online here, August 14, 2014, hereafter cited as “Hales, Lyings”.

[8] Hales, Lyings, online here, accessed August 14, 2014.

[9] The difference here is that while Hales doesn’t show in any way that Jeremy is a liar; there is definite proof that Joseph Smith was. Also, see Episodes 402-404 at Mormon Stories Podcast, “Brian Hales”, Pt. 1 found here, accessed, October 20, 2014.

[10] 3 Nephi 1:22.

[11]  On July 4, 2014 Cheryl L. Bruno published a response to a letter that Hales wrote to the Editor of the John Whitmer Historical Association on the Worlds Without End Blog. Hales immediately began attacking Cheryl Bruno (another believing Mormon who disagreed with him). One of his comments about her was,

Are we to classify Cheryl Bruno as another webmaster who teaches that Joseph Smith was a fraud? Unfortunately, there seems to be a growing number of such voices on the Internet these days. (Cheryl Bruno, “Emma’s Awareness: A Response to Brian Hales’ JMH Letter to the Editor, Worlds Without End, Online here, Accessed, October 20, 2014).

Instead of sticking to the historical issues, which Hales called “pseudo-evidence”, he continued his personal attack on Cheryl Bruno:

Cheryl chastises me saying: “For shame, Brian.” Perhaps I should apologize, but when a person like Cheryl or me places themselves in front of others as teachers of Joseph Smith’s life and doctrines, our personal beliefs become an issue. Why? Because he taught, “If ye receive not the Spirit ye shall not teach” (D&C 42:14). I think many in our audiences would like to know what spirit we seek as we teach. It seems to me that when you label Joseph Smith’s plural marriages as “indiscretions,” you portray him as a false prophet because he plainly disagreed with your assessment (see D&C 132:19-20). You affirm your belief in him but I seem to detect an inconsistency – (ibid., added emphpasis).

This is simply a ploy by Hales to try and jade the audience against those who disagree with him or his views about Joseph Smith. No one was asking this (by the way) if you read the comments. If you don’t uphold Smith and declare him totally innocent in everything he did, then you are a liar and Agent of Satan as Hales claims that Jeremy Runnells is; or that you have no right to teach anything about Smith as Hales directed at Cheryl Bruno.

With all of the erroneous conclusions that Brian Hales makes concerning polygamy, maybe he should evaluate himself as a teacher, but of course that will never happen, he will just produce more and more hit pieces on those who do not agree with him to promote his books and website. I advise Hales to carefully reread Doctrine and Covenants Section 107 and the Oath and Covenant of the Priesthood. But if he is taking his cue from the Mormon Hierarchy in Salt Lake City, it will make little difference.

[12] Hales, Rational Faiths, op. cited. There is a difference between being “quite critical” and blatant ad hominem which seems lost on those like Brian Hales.

[13] In the comments to this article Hales writes,

You are right that in this response I’ve not be able to really talk evidence. That is why I refer people to JosephSmithsPolygamy.ORG. There I have not avoided any topic. They are all there. Maybe give it a look?

It seems that everything that Hales produces is simply a promotion for his books or website. In his response to me about the attacks on Grant Palmer even Gregory L. Smith made a book pitch for Hales:

This is one reason that I recommend Brian’s 3 volumes so highly (and he didn’t pay me to say this!) He presents all the data available, or strives to. He explains how and why he reads it as he does, but even if you completely disagree, you can see how he got there. (Gregory L. Smith, response to grindael, October 14, 2014, since deleted by The Mormon Interpreter, but may be read here, Accessed, October 20, 2014).

Actually, you really can’t see how Hales gets to his conclusions because his speculations are, “ridiculous assertions”, (“The Sexual Side of Joseph Smith’s Polyandry,” 2012, 101) in which one finds “absurdity” (87) and many “fallacies of irrelevant proof”,  among other things, (80, 102, 104) according to Historian D. Michael Quinn.

Michael Quinn produced a massive analysis of Brian Hales’ questionable methodology in 2012 with his rebuttal to Hales’ flawed system of logic and perplexing gaffes in his use of the evidence in his presentations and written work dealing with Smith’s polyandry. He even went so far as to say that Hales consistently used a “double standard of LDS apologists who narrowly define acceptable evidence for unpleasant realities,” which for Hales, Smith’s life is full of.

The fact that Hales admits that his article targeting Jeremy Runnells really wasn’t about the evidence tells us that he was either too lazy to even try, or that it was so important to smear Jeremy Runnells that he just didn’t care about presenting any evidence to go along with his false accusations—or that he just didn’t have any.  We will let the readers decide.

What is interesting is that in a (now deleted) comment at the Mormon Interpreter, Gregory L. Smith derided me for saying that Grant Palmer was not obligated to include every apologist speculation that disagreed with his conclusions. He claimed that Palmer was then obligated to write a longer article.  He wrote,

If, however, Palmer is going to cite evidence regarding specific episodes that suggest Joseph had sexual dalliances outside of marriage relationships, then he must mention all the evidence which bears on those episodes. If this requires a larger article, so be it–he must either expand the article, or narrow his focus so that he can treat the evidence fairly in the allotted space. The same applies to you. One can’t simply allude to evidence that exists “out there” and consider the job done. I am a bit surprised that this is a point that must be explained. (Gregory L. Smith, comment to grindael, op. cited above in Note #1, added emphasis).

Does Hales do this with Jeremy Runnells? No. Even in his comments he admits that he doesn’t address the evidence but refers them to what is “out there” on his website.  We find this blatant hypocrisy troubling.

[14] Hales, Rational Faiths, op. cited.

[15] Using closed systems of logic is one of the tactics of cultists. See for example, Captive Hearts Captive Minds: Freedom and Recovery from Cults and Abusive Relationships,  Alameda, CA: Hunter House, Inc, Madeleine Landau Tobias, & Janja Lalich, (1994).

[16] Hales, Blog, op. cited.

[17] Neal A. Maxwell, “Becometh As a Child,” Conference Address, April 1996. Online here, accessed October 20, 2014.

[18] This kind of approach reminds us of something that Brigham Young once said, in regard to Mormon persecution,

The accusation brought against the Latter-day Saints was that they tampered with the slaves in Missouri, with the design of setting them free, and because of this the people were driven, and the Lord suffered it. But I ask did the Latter-day Saints ever suffer in Missouri as the Missourians did in the late struggle? No, not a drop in a bucket compared with it. The Missourians have been driven from their houses and hung up, their property confiscated, their women and children murdered, and every conceivable evil has been heaped upon them. Did we ever suffer like that? In very few instances; and it is a shame for the Latter-day Saints ever to talk about suffering. (Brigham Young, Journal of Discourses, Vol. 13, 148, added emphasis, Online here, Accessed October 20, 2014).

In other words according to Brigham Young Mormons have never really suffered compared to others and have a tendency to blow things out of proportion. That has not changed.

[19]  In this speech Maxwell cleverly interweaves the stories of Children’s faith in God and then likens that to the membership placing the same faith and trust in Mormon leaders.  He claims that “Because they trusted God as to what was really going on, like Job, they did not charge God foolishly”, and then states that members (like the people in the Book of Mormon) should be “willing to submit to what had been inflicted upon them.” He concludes that “Such submissive stillness is necessary, because the process of consecration is not one of explanation.” (added emphasis)

The concept of the lay membership being no more than “children” that need to be submissive and obey their leaders is nothing new in Mormonism.  In speaking of the Endowment, Catherine Lewis wrote in 1848:

This is called “the Sealing;” the Order of the Celestial Kingdom. In this part, the Twelve are commanded to take a plurality of wives; but lay members are only allowed to take to themselves wives with the consent of the Twelve. Here they seal up men, women and children to eternal life, as they term it. Men with their wives and families are sealed up to the Twelve as children, and are bound by solemn Oaths to obey their Parents (the Twelve) in all things, forever. They never become of age, but are subject to the Apostles, as Christ is to the Father.  At Nauvoo, I repeatedly heard it said, “When we arrive in the wilderness, where the law of the Lord can be executed, then the children who will not obey their parents, will be taken out of the Camp, and stoned to death. Did the people know under what bonds and penalties they brought themselves, by this sealing, very few, if any, but the most vicious and depraved, would consent to be sealed.  But it is wrapt so much in mystery, that many submit to its obligations from motives of curiosity, who afterward view them with abhorrence. I saw the sealing ceremony performed on Kimball’s lawful family, but should not be allowed to see the sealing of his adopted wives or children. (Catherine Lewis, Narrative, pg. 19, added emphasis).

Catherine Lewis is describing the Law of Adoption, which was practiced in the Church from the time of Joseph Smith until Wilford Woodruff discontinued the practice in 1894. A few years earlier in his Temple Lot Testimony, Lorenzo Snow lied that it was ever practiced in the Church. (See Note #176 & #177).

There is also plenty of evidence for the practice of Blood Atonement that was instigated by Young “in the wilderness” which we will discuss later in this Note.

For Hales to use this speech by Maxwell in relation to Jeremy Runnells is puzzling. Maxwell opens his speech with what he terms are the dangers of “Secularism” in America, and that “permissiveness” is opening the door to “awful consequences.” This is a debate that has been going on in America for many decades.  Maxwell quotes a line from one of journalist Peter Marin’s articles which speaks of “Secularism’s Blind Faith.”  But Maxwell completely misses Marin’s conclusion:

“We know now, or ought to know, that men are as ready to kill in God’s absence as they are in his name: that reason, like faith, can lead to murder, that the fanaticism long associated with religion was not born there, but has its roots deeper down in human nature.” (ibid, added emphasis)

One only has to look at the tyrannical reign of Brigham Young in Utah to see the flip side of Secularism’s problems in our day.  What is ironic is that Maxwell quotes Brigham Young in an effort to denounce what Young deemed “popularism” after he (Maxwell) denounces those who he claims “cannot leave the church alone”:

Like the throng on the ramparts of the “great and spacious building,” they are intensely and busily preoccupied, pointing fingers of scorn at the steadfast iron-rodders (1 Ne. 8:26–28, 33). Considering their ceaseless preoccupation, one wonders, Is there no diversionary activity available to them, especially in such a large building—like a bowling alley? Perhaps in their mockings and beneath the stir are repressed doubts of their doubts. In any case, given the perils of popularity, Brigham Young advised that this “people must be kept where the finger of scorn can be pointed at them” (Discourses of Brigham Young, sel. John A. Widtsoe [1941], 434). (Maxwell, op. cited).

But if one reads the quote by Young in context it becomes clear what he is really speaking of:

I look at this, and I am satisfied that it will not do for the Lord to make this people popular. Why? Because all hell would want to be in the church. The people must be kept where the finger of scorn can be pointed at them.

Although it is admitted that we are honest, industrious, truthful, virtuous, self-denying, and, as a community, possess every moral excellence, yet we must be looked upon as ignorant and unworthy, and as the offscouring of society, and be hated by the world. What is the reason of this? Christ and Baal can not become friends. When I see this people grow and spread and prosper, I feel that there is more danger than when they are in poverty. Being driven from city to city or into the mountains is nothing compared to the danger of our becoming rich and being hailed by outsiders as a first-class community. I am afraid of only one thing. What is that? That we will not live our religion, and that we will partially slide a little from the path of rectitude, and go part of the way to meet our friends. They say now that if we will only give up the doctrine of plurality of wives, they will admit us as a state, and hail us as “a pet state,” give us the preference to all the states, for our industry and prudence. (Brigham Young, Journal of Discourses Vol. 12, pg. 272, August 16, 1868, added emphasis, Online here, Accessed October 20, 2014).

Yet Brigham Young was one of the richest men in Utah Territory, and collected a $10,000 a year salary from the Church for 30 years. (See, Wilford Woodruff’s Journal, Vol. 7, 409, April 10, 1878, online here, at the CHL). The Church did renounce polygamy for statehood.

Jeremy Runnells is asking questions about Mormonism, not advocating permissiveness in society. But of course it has always been a penchant for Mormon “authorities” to accuse those who question their leaders as having some kind of spiritual problem.  For example, Marion G. Romney taught that,

“What we get out of general conference is a build-up of our spirits as we listen to those particular principles and practices of the gospel which the Lord inspires the present leadership of the Church to bring to our attention at the time. He knows why he inspired Brother Joseph F. Merrill to give the talk he just gave. He knows why he inspired the other brethren who have talked in this conference to say what they have said. It is our high privilege to hear, through these men, what the Lord would say if he were here. If we do not agree with what they say, it is because we are out of harmony with the Spirit of the Lord.” (Marion G. Romney, Conference Report, October 1950, 126-127, added emphasis, Online here, Accessed October 20, 2014).

This is the Mormon doctrine of infallibility in a nutshell. Though there are many citations by apologists that Mormon “prophets” always encourage members to think for themselves, yet, if they do not agree with their “file leaders”, they are the ones with the problem, not the leaders.  Of course there is more leeway with the lower Priesthood leadership, but there is none with the upper hierarchy and thus they are infallible when it comes to doctrine as Joseph Smith claimed when he said “I never told you I was perfect but there is no error in the revelations I have taught,” regardless if he was “righteous” or not, which he claimed he was not.

Although this Ward Teacher’s Message from 1945 was later criticized because of its extreme phrasing, it stands as a testament to the same sentiment echoed above by Marion G. Romney in General Conference:

Any Latter-day Saint who denounces or opposes whether actively or otherwise, any plan or doctrine advocated by the prophets, seers, revelators’ of the church, is cultivating the spirit of apostacy. One cannot speak evil of the lord’s annointed… and retain the holy spirit in his heart. This sort of game is Satan’s favorite pastime, and he has practiced it to believing souls since Adam. He wins a great victory when he can get members of the church to speak against their leaders and to do their own thinking.”

Any Latter-day Saint who denounces or opposes, whether actively or otherwise, any plan or doctrine advocated by the “prophets, seers, and revelators” of the Church is cultivating the spirit of apostasy. One cannot speak evil of the Lord’s anointed and retain the Holy Spirit in his heart.

It should be remembered that Lucifer has a very cunning way of convincing unsuspecting souls that the General Authorities of the Church are as likely to be wrong as they are to be right. This sort of game is Satan’s favorite pastime, and he has practiced it on believing souls since Adam. He wins a great victory when he can get members of the Church to speak against their leaders and to “do their own thinking.” He specializes in suggesting that our leaders are in error while he plays the blinding rays of apostasy in the eyes of those whom he thus beguiles. What cunning! And to think that some of our members are deceived by this trickery.

The following words of the Prophet Joseph Smith should be memorized by every Latter-day Saint and repeated often enough to insure their never being forgotten:

I will give you one of the Keys of the mysteries of the Kingdom. It is an eternal principle, that has existed with God from all eternity: That man who rises up to condemn others, finding fault with the Church, saying that they are out of the way, while he himself is righteous, then know assuredly, that that man is in the high road to apostasy; and if he does not repent, will apostatize, as God lives. (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, 156-157.)

When our leaders speak, the thinking has been done. When they propose a plan–it is God’s plan. When they point the way, there is no other which is safe. When they give direction, it should mark the end of controversy. God works in no other way. To think otherwise, without immediate repentance, may cost one his faith, may destroy his testimony, and leave him a stranger to the kingdom of God. (Ward Teachers Message, Deseret News, Church Section, 5, May 26, 1945. See also, Improvement Era, June 1945, 345).

This “Message” encapsulates what was proclaimed by every Mormon “authority” up to that time. Yet, what Joseph Smith claimed above, is exactly what he did himself (condemn others and claim that he was a prophet). Do all those that criticize Mormon leaders claim to be “righteous”? Not even Smith claimed that, he said that he was “not very righteous.” But he did claim there were no errors in his “revelations”. When the Ward Teachers Message from 1945 began to be circulated, it embarrassed the leadership of the church and George Albert Smith tried to retract it six months later:

The leaflet to which you refer, and from which you quote in your letter, was not “prepared” by “one of our leaders.” However, one or more of them inadvertently permitted the paragraph to pass uncensored. By their so doing, not a few members of the Church have been upset in their feelings, and General Authorities have been embarrassed.

George Albert Smith

I am pleased to assure you that you are right in your attitude that the passage quoted does not express the true position of the Church. Even to imply that members of the Church are not to do their own thinking is grossly to misrepresent the true ideal of the Church, which is that every individual must obtain for himself a testimony of the truth of the Gospel, must, through the redemption of Jesus Christ, work out his own salvation, and is personally responsible to His Maker for his individual acts. The Lord Himself does not attempt coercion in His desire and effort to give peace and salvation to His children. He gives the principles of life and true progress, but leaves every person free to choose or to reject His teachings. This plan the Authorities of the Church try to follow. (Letter from President George Albert Smith to Dr. J. Raymond Cope, Dec. 7, 1945).

If this was not the “true position” of the Church, then why did Marion G. Romney proclaim in General Conference five years later the very same thing? If you do not agree with what they (the leadership) say, it is you who are “out of harmony”.  Notice that Smith only focused on members not doing their own thinking, not that the leaders are infallible. He never rebuts that part of the message.

Actually, Joseph Smith supposedly claimed, and it is included in the new Essays on polygamy published by the church, that an angel appeared to Joseph Smith himself and threatened him with death (this is coercion is it not?) unless Smith began practicing polygamy.  This is hardly the ideal that George Albert Smith speaks of.

How is this allowing someone to be “free to choose or reject that teaching?” Smith also called John Snider on a mission and told him that if he did not go, he would be cut off from the church and damned. (See Note #33) This is definitely coercion, which Joseph also used on many of the women he tried to gain as spiritual “wives” by claiming that he could save them if they “married” him and if they did not they would be damned with their families. (See Note #73 & #44) If they chose to marry someone else and not Smith, they would be “damned”? How is this not coercion?

The bottom line here is that Church “authorities” are always right and if the members do not do what they say, they are wrong.  Though they supposedly teach people to think for themselves, in practice this is not the case, for if you do not agree with the church hierarchy it is because you (not them) are “out of harmony with the Spirit of the Lord” and an “apostate” who will be excommunicated as Rock Waterman and John Dehlin recently were.

You can think for yourself, as long as you agree. If you do not, and voice your disagreement, that is “speaking evil of the Lord’s Anointed,” and you are “out of harmony” once again. What is interesting is that when Spencer Kimball overturned the racist Priesthood Ban on blacks, Bruce R. McConkie wrote,

There are individuals who are out of harmony on this and on plural marriage and on other doctrines, but for all general purposes there has been universal acceptance; and everyone who has been in tune with the Spirit has known that the Lord spoke, and that his mind and his purposes are being manifest to the course the Church is pursuing. (Bruce R. McConkie, Speech delivered to CES Religious Educators Symposium, 18 August 1978, added emphasis).

“Out of harmony with the Spirit” simply means not agreeing with church “authorities” who Marion G. Romney claims all speak by its power and say “what the Lord would say if he were here.” Though cached in stronger language (the thinking has been done) the Ward Teachers Message from 1945 was exactly what Marion G. Romney was teaching five years later in 1950.

All of the people that were “in harmony” with Brigham Young who claimed that the blacks would never be able to be ordained to the Priesthood until all the sons of Abel were ordained were now “out of harmony” (in 1978) if they continued to believe that Young spoke by the “Holy Ghost” and was a bona fide prophet.

This makes no logical sense of course, unless one goes on an apologetic tangent and redefines what constitutes a prophet (in contradiction of what they themselves teach) or make the claim that they are only men and get “revelations” wrong sometimes. (They taught folklore that we don’t know the origin of, is a typical response). Of course, you won’t find the “authorities” admitting to any of this, it is all done anonymously and put up on their website with disclaimers that it is not “official”.

Notice that everyone who agreed with the leadership had “the Spirit”, while those who did not were “out of harmony”. McConkie was still using the same playbook that they used for the Ward Teacher’s Message from 1945 and that Marion Romney used five years later.  Brigham Young summed it up when he claimed:

I have told you what causes apostacy. It arises from neglect of prayers and duties, and the Spirit of the Lord leaves those who are thus negligent and they begin to think that the authorities of the church are wrong. In the days of Joseph the first thing manifested in the case of apostacy was the idea that Joseph was liable to be mistaken, and when a man admits that in his feelings and sets it down as a fact, it is a step towards apostacy, and he only needs to make one step more and he is cut off from the church. That is the case in any man. When several of the Twelve were cut off, the first step was that Joseph was a prophet, but he had fallen from his office and the Lord would suffer him to lead the people wrong. When persons get that idea in their minds, they are taking the first step to apostacy. If the Lord has designed that I should lead you wrong, then let us all go to hell together and, as Joseph used to say, we will take hell by force, turn the devils out and make a heaven of it. (Brigham Young, sermon given on 21 March 1858, Salt Lake Tabernacle, transcribed by George D. Watt, Richard Van Wagoner, The Complete Discourses of Brigham Young, Vol. 3, 1420, added emphasis).

Young claims that as “prophets” they are never wrong. And if the Lord designs Young to lead them astray, well, just follow him to hell! Notice that he claims that it is “the Lord” that would direct Young to lead them astray. The Lord would direct Young to lead them astray from the Lord? This is senseless, but Young simply could not admit that he could ever lead anyone astray.

As for those who would not obey their covenants, there are many statements made by Brigham Young and other “authorities” in his day about the consequences and the blood atonement necessary as payment for doing so.  Here is one example:

 I could refer you to plenty of instances where men, have been righteously slain, in order to atone for their sins. I have seen scores and hundreds of people for whom there would have been a chance (in the last resurrection there will be) if their lives had been taken and their blood spilled on the ground as a smoking incense to the Almighty, but who are now angels to the devil, until our elder brother Jesus Christ raises them up—conquers death, hell, and the grave. I have known a great many men who have left this Church for whom there is no chance whatever for exaltation, but if their blood had been spilled, it would have been better for them. The wickedness and ignorance of the nations forbid this principle’s being in full force, but the time will come when the law of God will be in full force.

This is loving our neighbour as ourselves; if he needs help, help him; and if he wants salvation and it is necessary to spill his blood on the earth in order that he may be saved, spill it. Any of you who understand the principles of eternity, if you have sinned a sin requiring the shedding of blood, except the sin unto death, would not be satisfied nor rest until your blood should be spilled, that you might gain that salvation you desire. That is the way to love mankind. (Brigham Young, Journal of Discourses, Vol. Vol. 4, 215-221, February 8, 1857, Online here, Accessed October 20, 2014).

This was also called by Young “cleansing the platter”, and part of this was the making of some men into eunuchs.  This punishment (carried out on Mormon Thomas Lewis) was performed by a Mormon Bishop (Warren Snow) in the same year as the speech above by Brigham Young which culminated in the Mountain Meadows Massacre (1857).

FAIRMORMON of course, instead of using the original source material (Wilford Woodruff’s Journal and the Diary of Samuel Pitchforth ) in the case of Bishop Warren Snow castrating Thomas Lewis, uses an apologetic synopsis  taken from the Master’s Thesis of John A. Peterson.  They don’t even quote the original sources found in Peterson’s thesis. With all the talk about using “original sources”, we think that Brian Hales and Gregory L. Smith would better serve the Mormon community by cleaning up the FAIRMORMON websites before criticizing others about using “secondary sources”.

The actual account of the matter recorded by Wilford Woodruff reads,

2d I spent the day in the office. President Young Called in in the afternoon also George A. Smith. We Conversed upon various subjects. Herd one of G. A. Smith Sermons read. We Conversed upon the subject of the present excitement in the states Concerning mormonism. We then went into the Temple Block to see the form of the first w[ater?] table made of white sandstone.

I then went into the president office & spent the evening. Bishop Blackburn was present. The subject Came up of some persons leaving Provo who had Apostitized. Some thought that Bishop Blackburn & [p.55] President Snow was to blame. Brother Joseph Young presented the thing to presidet Young. But When the Circumstances were told Presidet Brigham Young sustained the Brethren who presided at Provo. He said they had done [      ].

The subjects of Eunuchs came up & Joseph said that He would rather die than to be made a Eunuch. Brigham Said the day would Come when thousands would be made Eunochs in order for them to be saved in the kingdom of God.

The subject of women & Adulterry Came up. Joseph Asked if a woman & man who were married Could Commit Adultery. Brigham said that Joseph said they Could not yet He was satisfied they Could do wrong.

President Young said we Cannot Clens the Platter because the people will not bear it. Joseph. I am willing to have the people Clens the platter if they Can do it in righteousness & Judge righteous Judgment. Brigham. This people never was half as well prepared to execute righteousness as Now.

.I wish there was some people on Earth who Could tell us Just how much Sin we must sustain before we Can chastize the people & correct their errors. The wicked may go to the states & call for troops. I dont think the people will get rich. To come after us they have got a long road to travel. We have either got to Join hands with sin & sinners or we have got to fight them.

The subject of Adultery again Came up. Joseph said a man Cannot Commit Adultery with his wife. So says the revelation on the Patriar[chal?] Marriage. Yet a man Can do rong in having Connexion with his wife at times. Joseph Young said the Ancient Apostle said this. A man should not put away his wife save for the Cause of fornication. If He did they would both Commit Adultery.

L to R: Lorenzo Dow Young, Brigham, Phineas H., Joseph & John Young [13 Sept. 1866]

Brigham Young Said Joseph taught that when a womans affections was entirly weaned from her husband that was Adultery in spirit. Her Affections were [p.56] Adulterated from his. He also said that there was No law in Heaven or on Earth that would Compel a woman to stay with a man either in time or Eternity. This I think is true (but I do not know) that if a man that is a High priest takes a woman & she leaves him & goes to one of a lesser office say the Lesser priesthood or member I think in the resurrection that that High Priest Can Claim her. “Joseph. What if she should not want to go with him? I should not want a woman under those Circumstances.

Brigham. I will tell you what you will find. That all those evil traditions & affections or passions that Haunt the mind in this life will all be done away in the resurrection. You will find then that any man who gets a glory & exaltation will be so beautiful that any woman will be willing to have him if it was right & wharever it is right for the woman to go there she will be willing to go for all those evils will vanish to which we are subject in this life.

I have told the people the truth Just as it is but others will at times get up & tell the people that they will get no heaven ownly what they make in this life and that it will be in the next world as it is in this. Now they do not mean what they say. They do not explain themselves. Hence the people will not understand what is said to them.

Joseph said I wish I knew what my limits were Brigham Your limits are endless & you have not got half way to the [end?] of it yet. Now when I was an Elder I was as willing to Correct an Error in the Brethren as I am now. But the people do not see it so. Now if you should be with the 12 or any body you would have a right to correct an Error as well as with a member but you could not Correct them by cutting them off from the Church because they are over you in the priesthood. Many other remarks were made at the time. (Wilford Woodruff’s Journal, Vol. 5, 54-56, June 1, 1857. The Woodruff Journals are now online here, at the CHL).

Michael Quinn (citing Peterson) writes (The Mormon Hierarchy, Extensions of Power, 251) that in the account above, Joseph Young “disapproved” of castration, yet, Joseph Young only states that “He would rather die than to be made a Eunuch.” This is not approval or disapproval of doing so to others, it is simply a statement that he himself would not like to be made into one.

If one reads the actual quote from the Samuel Pitchforth diary one comes away with an entirely different view of what Joseph Young was talking about as John A. Peterson writes in his Master’s Thesis,

Late in the spring, Joseph Young (Brigham’s brother,) and a few other members of the Church’s First Quorum of the Seventy, learned of the incident while visiting the central Utah area. Joseph was incensed and “entirely disaproved” of the action. He mentioned it in Nephi as he returned to Salt Lake City. He furiously declared that he “did not want” that man as a leader that “would shed blood before he was duly commanded.” “Oh how careful men ought to be- in not steping to[o] far” he cautioned the Nephi leadership, “for they might do something that would give them sorrow forever.”  (John A. Peterson, “Warren Stone Snow, A Man In Between : The Biography of a Mormon Defender,” Master’s Thesis, BYU (1985) 114, citing The Diary of Samuel Pitchforth, May 31, 1857).

Peterson then claims that when Joseph Young was in Salt Lake and at the meeting described by Woodruff above, that he was “In a near rage” when he claimed that he would rather die than be made a Eunuch. (ibid.).

First, there is nothing to convey that Joseph Young was in a “near rage” at all at either meeting. And most importantly, Young isn’t saying that he disapproved of the castration, (though he didn’t want to be castrated himself –who would?) he “entirely disapproved” of any man that “would shed blood before he was duly commanded.” To show that this was the thrust of what Joseph Young meant, one simply has to read the minutes recorded in Wilford Woodruff’s Journal.

Peterson very selectively quotes from the Woodruff Journal as he does with the Pitchforth Diary, (which has restricted access at the CHL) so I am relying on his edited transcription.

It is from Pitchforth that we are told that Thomas Lewis was “under arrest and on the way to the City (Salt Lake) to be taken to the penitentiary”. (ibid., 203-204) This still does not stop FAIRMORMON from claiming that “Lewis was being transported to the penitentiary for a sexual crime. He was not attacked simply for desiring a marriage.”  They also make a lot of other points based on Peterson’s apologetic work.

Quinn (per Peterson) writes that Lewis’ transport to the penitentiary was for an “undisclosed sex crime”. (D. Michael Quinn, The Mormon Hierarchy, Origins of Power, Signature Books, 251). This is also used by FAIRMORMON and others to try and shift the blame for the attack—not on Warren Snow’s jealously of Lewis, but on some “sex crime” committed by Lewis even though Peterson states that there are no records of any kind of crime being committed by Lewis at Nephi, or of any excommunication for such.  (See Peterson, pp. 203-204 where he states that “No minutes of any civil or church trial for Thomas Lewis’ crime have been found.”)

Now, there may have been no records found in Nephi, but there are records of a Church trial in Manti— but not for a sex crime. As John Turner writes:

“Even if Young primarily considered the doctrine [of blood atonement] a prod to repentance, several brutal acts of violence indicated the dangerous nature of his rhetoric. On October 29, 1856, at the height of the reformation in Manti, Thomas Lewis was castrated. Lewis was a Welsh immigrant in his early twenties; a few weeks earlier, he had been excommunicated from the church because he had nearly killed Manti resident John Price with a [p. 259] shovel. More recently, he had threatened to kill his brother-in-law Isaac Vorhees and had been sentenced to five years in prison. While being transported to the penitentiary, according to his mother, Elizabeth Jones, Lewis ‘was taken out of the wagon and a blanket put round his head & . . . like a pig by taking his Testicles clean out & he laid at this place in a dangerous state he was out two nights & part of two days before he was found.’ Manti bishop Warren Snow had ordered her son’s castration. Two later anti-Mormon exposes alleged that Lewis had courted a woman also desired by Bishop Snow, but the incident may also have simply stemmed from Lewis’s violent behavior.[n76]

Elizabeth Jones wrote to Young for an explanation. Young was aware of Lewis’s crimes and punishments, for local leaders had discussed the Price incident with him. According to Jones, Young had authorized her son’s transportation in handcuffs to the Salt Lake penitentiary. Now she asked the church president if her son’s punishment was ‘right and righteous.’ Young responded with a letter that, while expressing sympathy, offered theological justification for the castration by alluding to the concept of blood atonement. ‘I would prefer that any child of mine should lose his life in atonement for his sins than lose eternal salvation,’ he counseled. The following spring, when other church leaders questioned Snow’s judgment, Young defended the bishop. ‘I will tell you,’ Young insisted, ‘that when a man is trying to do right & do[es] some thing that is not exactly in order I feel to sustain him.’ Snow kept his bishopric.

Though he condoned it afterward, it is uncertain whether Young had authorized Thomas Lewis’s castration in advance.[n77]” (John Turner, Brigham Young, 258–259).

Notes 76 and 77 on page 463 read as follows:

  1. Excommunication in Manti Ward Record, 5 Oct. 1856, LR 5253 11, CHL; Minutes of Sanpete County Court, 20 Oct. 1856, microfilm at HBLL Family History Library; Jones to BY, 8 Nov. 1856, Box 69, Folder 7, BYP; Ann Eliza Young, Wife No. 19, or the Story of a Life in Bondage (Hartford, CT: Dustin, Gilman, 1875), 280; MU, 285–286.
  2. BY to Elizabeth Jones, 15 Nov. 1856, Letterpress Copybook 3, page 186a, BYP; WWJ, 2 June 1857, 5:54–55.

It becomes clear why Peterson states that there were no records to be found for any sex crime committed by Lewis, because he was excommunicated for almost killing a man and threatening to kill another.  Lewis’ mother, Elizabeth Jones wrote two letters to Brigham Young in early November about her son’s castration, which are at the Church History Library but are currently restricted.

Young’s response to Elizabeth Jones is troubling because it is about “losing your life in atonement” for sin, which sentence was usually carried out on murderers and those who broke their temple covenants. Castration does not seem to fit this crime. (The one Lewis was actually excommunicated for).

The fact that Lewis did not actually murder anyone may be why Joseph Young told those at Nephi that not waiting to be duly commanded to carry out punishments of this nature might “give them sorrow forever”. Still, Joseph Young was speaking many months after the incident took place, and it is not certain that he knew Brigham Young was already aware of the incident from the letters of Elizabeth Jones. During the meeting held in June, they mention two persons that had left Provo who had “apostatized”, and then Bishop Snow.  This is important because it corroborates an 1859 account by a U. S. soldier. (mentioned below)

Ann Eliza Young wrote about Lewis in her book, Wife No. 19 and claimed that,

Contrary to his [Thomas Lewis] usual habit, he attended a dancing-party one evening at the urgent and repeated entreaties of his friends, and during the evening he was quite attentive to a young lady-friend or his who was present, and with whom he was on terms of greater intimacy than with any other in the company. …It happened that Snow, the Bishop of the ward in which the Lewis family lived, had cast his patriarchal eye on this young girl, and designed her for himself; and he did not relish the idea of seeing another person pay any attention to his future wife. He had a large family already, but he wished to add to it, and he did not choose to be interfered with.

Lewis’s doom was sealed at once; the bewitched Bishop was mad with jealous rage, and he had only to give a hint of his feelings to some of his chosen followers, who were always about, and the sequel was sure. He denounced Lewis in the most emphatic manner, and really succeeded in arousing quite a strong feeling of indignation against him for his presumption in daring to pay even the slightest attention to a lady who was destined to grace a Bishop’s harem.

The closest espinoage was kept upon him by the Bishop’s band of ruffians, and one evening a favorable opportunity presented itself; he was waylaid, and the Bishop’s sentence was carried out, which was to inflict on the boy an injury so brutal and barbarous that no woman’s pen may write the words that describe it.

He lay concealed spot for twenty-four hours, weak and ill, and unable to move. Here his brother found him in an apparently dying state, and took him home to his poor, distracted mother, who nursed him with a breaking heart, until after a long time, when he partially recovered. (Ann Eliza Young, Wife No. 19, 280-81, Online here, accessed November 1, 2014).

Ann Eliza Young does try to paint Lewis as a “quiet, inoffensive fellow”, which he obviously was not, but she gets some other details correct in her account. (See below)

There is other corroborating evidence for this being a case of a Bishop getting revenge.  There is an 1859 diary entry by John Wolcott Phelps, a U. S. Calvary Soldier who later became a Brigadier General, but who was a First Lieutenant during the Mormon War. According to D. Michael Quinn, Phelps wrote that,

…“two youths” fled to the U.S. army camp after being “castrated by Mormons.” One “handsome young Dane” had been courting a girl whom an LDS bishop wanted. To dispose of his rival, the bishop claimed the young man “had committed bestiality and had him castrated.” (John W. Phelps diary, March 28, 1859, cited by Quinn, Extensions of Power, 1997, 255 & 538 n. 195).

Quinn believes that this is a later incident, but in Peterson’s thesis he claims that in the spring of 1859, District Judge John Cradlebaugh began a crusade against any Mormons accused of various crimes and “sought any information that would incriminate any Mormon leader in any way and the Lewis affair… put Warren near the top of the judge’s wanted list.” (ibid., 116).

At the end of March we have John Phelps writing about a Mormon Bishop who had orchestrated the castration of a young man who they claimed had committed bestiality. This same young man had been courting a girl that the Bishop wanted for himself.  It was only a few weeks after this that men showed up at Warren Snow’s door to arrest him and he fled.

It is entirely plausible that First Lieutenant John Phelps was told the story about the Bishop and the castration (since he was near the top of their wanted list at that time) before the men were dispatched to arrest Snow. Also, the meeting recorded by Woodruff in June of 1857 speaks of two persons who had apostatized and left Provo and mentions them in connection with Bishop Snow.

Even FAIRMORMON claims that,

One other event from journals in 1859 reports an unnamed bishop supposedly castrating someone because they wanted to marry their girlfriend. Snow is named by one source in the 1859 account; given Brigham’s reaction to the first event, it seems unlikely that Snow would do the same thing again. His inclusion in an account of the second event may well be due to conflation, which may demonstrate how unusual such events were. It may be that rumor and frontier “urban legend” confused the Snow story with the passage of time.

Judge John Cradlebaugh

This is unlikely because at that time (1859)  Judge John Cradlebaugh was investigating Snow for castrating John Lewis and these appear to be the details of that investigation which were written about at that time.

Again, what sense does it make that Snow would want to castrate Lewis for bestiality or some other crime, when he was already going to the penitentiary for attempted murder?  It makes much more sense that Snow would do so out of revenge to perhaps teach him a lesson or carry out his idea of Mormon justice.

Peterson claims that Warren Snow “railed” that “There is some of our sisters … that will ask those cussed Gentiles to go home & sleep with them.” (Peterson, op. cited, 111). But Lewis was not a “Gentile”, he was a member of the church.  Snow also claimed “that a dagger should be put through both of their hearts,” not that the man should be castrated. (ibid.).

Peterson blames this on violent rhetoric by Mormon “authorities”, and that may be so in this case because Joseph Young claimed that they carried out this punishment without being duly commanded.

Peterson also claims that, “To Warren, who trusted his leaders implicitly, such preaching was more than simple hyperbole”. He also claims that Brigham “tempored” [sic] his teaching” by claiming that such things were for a time “not yet here”. (ibid., 112-113)

When discussing the meeting recorded by Woodruff, Peterson writes:

“Obviously referring to Lewis’ crime, they then discussed sexual sin. Brigham again emphasized his feeling that the time for such severe punishment was still in the future by saying that church leaders could not “Clens the Platter because the people will not bear it.” He expressed his fear that if such penalties were carried out, “the wicked [would]go to the states & call for troops.” But then, making obvious reference to Warren, he said, “I will tell you that when a man is trying to do right & do[es] something that is not exactly in order I feel to sustain him.” and perhaps looking at Joseph [Young], he authoritatively added “& we all should.” (ibid.).

Actually, they were not referring to any crime committed by Lewis, they spoke of two people leaving Provo who had “apostatized.” They then discussed the castration (Joseph Young presenting it to Brigham Young) and Young sustained Bishop Snow in his action. They then spoke about Eunuchs. It was only after this that the “subject of adultery came up.”

Peterson then relates that later, Brigham Young wrote a letter to Warren Snow and “affirmed his friendship” and in answer to a letter from Snow to Young about complaints from Ward members stated that Young’s writing an Epistle to the Ward members affirming Snow’s action “would be like pouring water on “a hot Iron,” making only “the more smoke.” “Just let the matter drop,” he told Warren, “and say no more about it, and it will soon die away amongst the people.” (ibid., 114-115) It obviously did not die down, for Joseph Young was told about it, mentioned it in Nephi and then reported the incident to his brother. This was eight months later.

This obvious whitewash of the whole affair by Brigham Young is astounding if (as Young claimed) this was all something that was not any kind of policy in the Church, but was for a future time. And Peterson’s edited version of the minutes of the meeting recorded by Woodruff on June 2, 1857, do not do it justice. Joseph Young also claimed that,

 I am willing to have the people Clens the platter if they Can do it in righteousness & Judge righteous Judgment.  (Woodruff, op. cited)

This is hardly disapproval of castrating people or killing them if they “sin”.

Brigham Young replied,

This people never was half as well prepared to execute righteousness as Now. I will tell you that when a man is trying to do right & do[es] some thing that is not exactly in order I feel to sustain him & we all should. I wish there was some people on Earth who Could tell us Just how much Sin we must sustain before we Can chastize the people & correct their errors. (ibid., added emphasis).

Peterson claims that they were speaking of Lewis’ “crime” when they spoke of cleansing the platter, but this was prefaced by a question about adultery between those already married by Joseph Young. To therefore ascribe the remarks to some nameless sex crime committed by Lewis is going beyond the evidence.

Why also, (if this were only hyperbole on Brigham Young’s part) does he ask how much sin they have to sustain before they could chastize the people and correct their errors? Wasn’t this what was being done with the so called hyperbole as Peterson claims? What then does he mean here by chastize?

One also wonders why Brigham Young would only be concerned about someone doing “something  that is not exactly in order” and that attempted murder and castration is “trying to do something right” if blood atonement was not a practice in the church.

What Woodruff’s Minutes convey is that Young felt that the practice was not ready to go to the Church as a whole. It does not mean that it was not being carried out in private and sanctioned by the “authorities”, as polygamy was before it was given to the church. It also makes sense out of Joseph Young’s initial concern that Snow carried out the order without being duly commanded.

It is also interesting that less than a year after the Lewis castration; Hosea Stout recorded another incident that took place,

“Saturday 27 Feb 1858. This evening several persons disguised as Indians entered Henry Jones’ house and dragged him out of bed with a whore and castrated him by a square & close amputation.” (On the Mormon Frontier; The Diary of Hosea Stout, Vol. 2, 653).

This was the same M.O. that was used during the Mountain Meadows Massacre. A year later Henry Jones and his mother were murdered.  (Vally Tan, April 19, 1859).

Still, Blood Atonement has been denied as a doctrine of the Church and in the 1990’s the Temple Endowment was changed and the blood Oaths which filled Catherine Lewis with so much loathing and fear (which obviously led her to feel some paranoia) were removed from the ceremony.

In a strange turn of events we find that the mother of Thomas Lewis eventually became one of Brigham Young’s wives:

“For two decades, Elizabeth Jones had endured a tumultuous family life. A woman of some means, she left Wales as the wife of David Thomas Lewis, married Captain Dan Jones shortly after her arrival in the Salt Lake Valley, and then divorced Jones in October 1856. One day after her divorce, her son Thomas Lewis was castrated by an extralegal posse, and Young conveyed to her his approval of the punishment. Elizabeth then married a third husband, whom she also divorced. In the late 1850s, she asked Young to marry her. ‘I belong to you,’ she wrote the church president, adding that he had previously caused her to marry against her wishes. ‘Had you Have acted the right part toward me I should [p. 376] have Been another woman,’ she stated. Young admired the woman many Mormons called the ‘Welsh Queen’; he publicly praised her generosity toward poor emigrants from Wales. He was unwilling to marry her, however, and she eventually returned to Captain Jones. Seven years after Dan Jones’s 1862 death, Young and Elizabeth finally kneeled  together at the Endowment House altar. . .” (Turner, op. cited, 375–376).

Ann Eliza Young in her expose writes that,

But a still greater marvel is, that the mother of Biship Snow’s poor victim still retains her faith in Mormonism, and since the cruel and disgraceful tragedy which deprived her of her son, has been sealed to Brigham Young as one of his wives. It was not pity that moved him to marry her, nor a desire to comfort her and lighten her burdens; but it was because he saw by so doing he could advance his own interests. Mrs. Lewis is never mentioned among his wives, yet he was sealed to her about two years after his marriage to me. Brigham’s matrimonial experiences hardly find a place here, but as Mrs. Lewis’s alliance with the Prophet came about in a way through this tragedy, it may not be out of place even in this chapter on “Blood-Atonement.” (Ann Eliza Young, op. cited, 281-282).

[20] Maxwell, op. cited.

[21] Maxwell, op. cited.

[22] Hales, “Lyings”, op. cited

[23] Attributed to Ryan Robinson.

[24] Hales, “Rational Faiths”, op. cited.

 

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