Thursday, November 13, 2014

Joseph Smith and Plural Marriage

Apparently there is a lot of flurry over an article posted November 10th on the front page of the New York Times. This syndicated article has appeared in many other newspapers across the nation.
The author, Laurie Goodstein, of  It's Official: Mormon Founder Had Up to 40 Wives begins her article by making a "startling disclosure":

"Mormon leaders have acknowledged for the first time that the church’s founder and prophet, Joseph Smith, portrayed in church materials as a loyal partner to his loving spouse Emma, took as many as 40 wives, some already married and one only 14 years old."

The article goes on to say that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is now responding "with openness to the kind of thorny historical and theological issues that are causing some to become disillusioned or even to abandon the faith".

She even throws in an emotional quote by Utah woman blogger, Emily Jenson, to "substantiate" her claim. Ms. Jenson says that members are saying on blogs and social media, “This is not the church I grew up with, this is not the Joseph Smith I love.”

A Jewish friend of mine, a New Yorker, posed a question to me. She asked why, though appearing "objective", would this article try and destroy the founder of an American church and "undermine the faith of thousands of people, saying basically that they have been duped all these years?"

That is a very good question. Why? What is going on here?

First of all, you have to accept what news reporting actually is -- a business. Their business is the selling of new information.  These are not altruistic people who devote all their time and energy to keeping us informed. They have families and have to earn a living. Reporters are always looking for a "good story" and know that stories about groups of people outside of the American Protestant norm will draw an audience. Since few people are familiar with the beliefs, history, and lives of Jews, Catholics, or Mormons, stories concerning them make "good copy".

But why the dramatic headline, the supposed "disclosure", and the emotional quotes?  Remember, their business is first and foremost to sell news, and they are master sales people. A good writer knows the emotional connotation of every word. They know how to put things in such a way that, though technically correct (and protected from being sued), people are led to the conclusion they want them to make about the information.

All writing reflects the personal biases of the writer. It needs to have some premise, some purpose. No one would read "bland" details. Since people are drawn to the sensational, the unusual, and the titillating, reporters give us what we want. Reporting is pleasing the masses, and certainly not objective.

Let's take another look at the title and I'll put in the emotional connotations.

It's Official: (this is true and accurate; you can believe all I am telling you) Mormon (that strange group!) Founder Had Up to 40 Wives (how could he do such a thing!)

next paragraph with me putting in the emotional implications

"Mormon leaders have acknowledged for the first time (they have kept it hidden! bad people!) that the church's founder and prophet, Joseph Smith, portrayed (the Church didn't want us to know how bad he really was!) in church materials as a loyal partner to his loving spouse Emma, (he betrayed the trust of this good woman!) took 40 wives, some already married (wicked! ) and one only 14 years old (the horrible abusive devil! If he was such an evil man, then the church he founded is also evil, and should be destroyed!!)

Well, so much for all that emotionalism. It sells, but you have to be rather naive to believe all you read or hear. I think those "disillusioned" people who are "abandoning the faith" never had much faith to begin with and probably don't even know what the beliefs of the Church really are. Every time The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints does something new, there are always people who are upset and leave the Church.

Personally, I don't know anyone who is shocked, or planning on leaving the Church. Everyone knows that Joseph Smith received the revelation on plural marriage and had many wives. It is printed in our scriptures and taught in our church classes. My faith and testimony of the "Mormon" beliefs are not based on any particular person, but on the knowledge I have gained as I have lived Gospel principles. My experiences have given me a knowledge that these principles do bring happiness. They are true.

(This is getting long, so I will discuss the article further in my next blog. I decided that I wanted to read for myself this information on plural marriage. I did, and found some interesting things. Everything in the Times article is true as far as it goes, but it doesn't give the whole picture. I will do it. )

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