Key Excerpts From The LDS Gospel Topics Essays

Last Updated on August 25, 2023 by Jason Harris


This post is primarily composed of excerpts from the LDS Gospel Topics Essays, approved for publication by the LDS First Presidency and LDS Quorum of the Twelve Apostles starting in 2013. These essays have helped bring to light to the general LDS membership many doctrinal, historical, racial and sexist issues that have plagued and continue to plague the LDS Church. I previously wrote some of my perspectives about these essays in far more depth in 2018, “Minimization, Distortion, Deception and Spin in the LDS Church History Gospel Topics Essays” as invited to do by my friend, Anthony Miller, on his blog.

It was soul-shattering to me several years ago to realize that much of what I had been led to believe most of my life were “Anti-Mormon Lies” were in fact true. I think the LDS Church is to be commended for the steps towards transparency and honesty publishing these essays has taken. I also think these essays still often fall far short of the standards of honesty and integrity I was expected to live in my own life as a Mormon and still strive to live by.

Despite the heartaches a faith transition has brought into my own life, there has also been immense growth from this experience. I will always be grateful for my Mormon upbringing. So many of the blessings in my own life are deeply paradoxical.

LDS Gospel Topics Essays Introductory Page

Recognizing that today so much information about The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints can be obtained from questionable and often inaccurate sources, officials of the Church began in 2013 to publish straightforward, in-depth essays on a number of topics. The purpose of these essays, which have been approved by the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, has been to gather accurate information from many different sources and publications and place it in the Gospel Topics section of…

…We again encourage members to study the Gospel Topics essays… as they “seek learning, even by study and also by faith.

“Gospel Topics Essays Introductory Page” as published on as of August 2023

Book of Mormon Translation

As a young man during the 1820s, Joseph Smith, like others in his day, used a seer stone to look for lost objects and buried treasure. As Joseph grew to understand his prophetic calling, he learned that he could use this stone for the higher purpose of translating scripture. …Joseph often translated with the single seer stone rather than the two stones bound together to form the interpreters… Joseph Smith and his associates often used the term “Urim and Thummim” to refer to the single stone as well as the interpreters…

Some accounts indicate that Joseph studied the characters on the plates. Most of the accounts speak of Joseph’s use of the Urim and Thummim (either the interpreters or the seer stone), and many accounts refer to his use of a single stone. According to these accounts, Joseph placed either the interpreters or the seer stone in a hat, pressed his face into the hat to block out extraneous light, and read aloud the English words that appeared on the instrument.

“Book of Mormon Translation” as published on as of August 2023

Of interest, none of the treasures Joseph Smith directed others to dig for using the seer stone were ever found. This is not mentioned in the essay.

Book of Mormon and DNA Studies

There is no genetic evidence linking indigenous American populations to an originating population from the Middle East/Near East. Extensive DNA evidence (thousands of samples from indigenous populations from North, Central and South America) indicates an origin from North-East Asian populations thousands of years before Book of Mormon timelines. This essay acknowledges this is the case and suggests reasons as to why this may be. The possibility that The Book of Mormon may not be a literal historical record is not explored.

DNA studies cannot be used decisively to either affirm or reject the historical authenticity of the Book of Mormon.

The evidence assembled to date suggests that the majority of Native Americans carry largely Asian DNA. Scientists theorize that in an era that predated Book of Mormon accounts, a relatively small group of people migrated from northeast Asia to the Americas by way of a land bridge that connected Siberia to Alaska. These people, scientists say, spread rapidly to fill North and South America and were likely the primary ancestors of modern American Indians.

The Book of Mormon provides little direct information about cultural contact between the peoples it describes and others who may have lived nearby. Consequently, most early Latter-day Saints assumed that Near Easterners or West Asians like Jared, Lehi, Mulek, and their companions were the first or the largest or even the only groups to settle the Americas… The Book of Mormon itself, however, does not claim that the peoples it describes were either the predominant or the exclusive inhabitants of the lands they occupied. In fact, cultural and demographic clues in its text hint at the presence of other groups…

…What seems clear is that the DNA of Book of Mormon peoples likely represented only a fraction of all DNA in ancient America. Finding and clearly identifying their DNA today may be asking more of the science of population genetics than it is capable of providing.

“Book of Mormon and DNA Studies” as published on as of August 2023

The words of Lehi:
8 And behold, it is wisdom that this land should be kept as yet from the knowledge of other nations; for behold, many nations would overrun the land, that there would be no place for an inheritance.
9 Wherefore, I, Lehi, have obtained a promise, that inasmuch as those whom the Lord God shall bring out of the land of Jerusalem shall keep his commandments, they shall prosper upon the face of this land; and they shall be kept from all other nations, that they may possess this land unto themselves. And if it so be that they shall keep his commandments they shall be blessed upon the face of this land, and there shall be none to molest them, nor to take away the land of their inheritance; and they shall dwell safely forever.

2 Nephi 1:8-9, as published on as of August 2023

First Vision Accounts

Joseph’s first written account of the First Vision was in 1832, over one decade after the said event. Other accounts followed over the years. Critics have charged key elements of these accounts are not consistent with each other and evolved over time. Of note, (and not explicitly mentioned in the essay) there are no known historical records of Joseph Smith or his family members, friends, acquaintances or enemies discussing the First Vision during the 1820’s. And this despite Joseph stating in his 1838 account that he was persecuted by “all sects” for sharing it at that time. But there are numerous accounts from this time period of Joseph and his family, friends and enemies alike discussing his encounters with the angel Moroni/Nephi.

The various accounts of the First Vision tell a consistent story, though naturally they differ in emphasis and detail… Yet despite the differences, a basic consistency remains across all the accounts of the First Vision. Some have mistakenly argued that any variation in the retelling of the story is evidence of fabrication. To the contrary, the rich historical record enables us to learn more about this remarkable event than we could if it were less well documented.

“First Vision Accounts” as published on as of August 2023.

1832 Account:

At about the age of twelve years, my mind became seriously impressed with regard to the all-important concerns for the welfare of my immortal soul, which led me to searching the scriptures…

…I became convicted of my sins, and by searching the scriptures I found that mankind did not come unto the Lord but that they had apostatized from the true and living faith…

…Therefore, I cried unto the Lord for mercy… and while in the attitude of calling upon the Lord, in the sixteenth year of my age, a pillar of light above the brightness of the sun at noonday came down from above and rested upon me… the Lord opened the heavens upon me and I saw the Lord. And he spake unto me, saying, “Joseph, my son, thy sins are forgiven thee… the world lieth in sin at this time, and none doeth good, no, not one… They draw near to me with their lips while their hearts are far from me. 

I could find none that would believe the heavenly vision. Nevertheless, I pondered these things in my heart.

1832 First Vision Account as cited in references of essay as of August 2023

1835 Account:

Being wrought up in my mind respecting the subject of religion, and looking at the different systems taught the children of men, I knew not who was right or who was wrong… I made a fruitless attempt to pray; my tongue seemed to be swollen in my mouth, so that I could not utter. I heard a noise behind me, like some person walking towards me. I strove again to pray but could not… I kneeled again. My mouth was opened and my tongue liberated, and I called on the Lord in mighty prayer. A pillar of fire appeared above my head. It presently rested down upon me and filled me with joy unspeakable. A personage appeared in the midst of this pillar… Another personage soon appeared, like unto the first. He said unto me, “Thy sins are forgiven thee.” He testified unto me that Jesus Christ is the son of God. And I saw many angels in this vision. I was about fourteen years old when I received this first communication.

1835 First Vision Account as cited in references of essay as of August 2023

1838 Account (Contained within Pearl of Great Price):

…In my fifteenth year… my mind was called up to serious reflection and great uneasiness [regarding competing religious truth claims];

In the midst of this war of words… I often said to myself: What is to be done?… I was one day reading the  Epistle of Jamesfirst chapter and fifth verse, which reads: If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God… At length I came to the conclusion that I must either remain in darkness and confusion, or else I must do as James directs, that is, ask of God…

So, in accordance with this… I retired to the woods to make the attempt. It was on the morning of a beautiful clear day, early in the spring of eighteen hundred and twenty… I kneeled down and began to offer up the desires of my heart to God… immediately I was seized upon by some power which entirely overcame me, and had such an astonishing influence over me as to bind my tongue so that I could not speak… But, [I exerted] all my powers to call upon God to deliver me… just at this moment of great alarm, I saw a pillar of light exactly over my head… I found myself delivered from the enemy which held me bound. When the light rested upon me I saw two Personages… One of them spake unto me, calling me by name and said, pointing to the other—This is My Beloved Son, Hear Him!… I asked the Personages who stood above me in the light, which of all the sects was right (for at this time it had never entered into my heart that all were wrong)—and which I should join. I was answered that I must join none of them, for they were all wrong…

… my telling the story… excited a great deal of prejudice against me… and was the cause of great persecution… this was common among all the sects—all united to persecute me.

1838 Account as cited in Joseph Smith HIstory 1 in Pearl of Great Price on as of August 2023

1842 Account:

When about fourteen years of age, I began to reflect upon the importance of being prepared for a future state, and upon enquiring about the plan of salvation, I found that there was a great clash in religious sentiment… Considering that all could not be right… I determined to investigate the subject more fully… I had confidence in the declaration of James: “If any man lack wisdom, let him ask of God, who giveth to all men liberally and upbraideth not, and it shall be given him.”

I retired to a secret place in a grove and began to call upon the Lord. While fervently engaged in supplication… I was enwrapped in a heavenly vision and saw two glorious personages who exactly resembled each other in features and likeness… They told me that all religious denominations were believing in incorrect doctrines… I was expressly commanded to “go not after them,” at the same time receiving a promise that the fulness of the gospel should at some future time be made known unto me.

1842 First Vision Account as cited in references of essay as of August 2023

Translation and Historicity of the Book of Abraham



A Translation of some ancient Records that have fallen into our hands from the catacombs of Egypt. The writings of Abraham while he was in Egypt, called the Book of Abraham, written by his own hand, upon papyrus.

The Book of Abraham, as published on as of Aug 2023

None of the characters on the papyrus fragments mentioned Abraham’s name or any of the events recorded in the book of Abraham. Latter-day Saint and non-Latter-day Saint Egyptologists agree that the characters on the fragments do not match the translation given in the book of Abraham, though there is not unanimity, even among non-Latter-day Saint scholars, about the proper interpretation of the vignettes on these fragments. Scholars have identified the papyrus fragments as parts of standard funerary texts that were deposited with mummified bodies. These fragments date to between the third century B.C.E. and the first century C.E., long after Abraham lived.

“Translation and Historicity of the Book of Abraham” as published on as of August 2023

Numerous explanations are put forth in the essay to suggest how the Book of Abraham could still be an authentic historical record despite evidence which suggests otherwise. The possibility the Book of Abraham may not be a literal historical record is not explored.

It’s important to note that the essay says there is not unanimity, even among non-LDS scholars, about the proper interpretation of the vignettes/facsimiles (the images published in the Book of Abraham). This is technically true about several areas of minor interpretation. However, this phrase can be misleading as there is universal consensus among both LDS and non-LDS Egyptologists that Joseph Smith’s translations of the vignettes as published in the Book of Abraham absolutely do not match what the vignettes/facsimiles literally say.

Also of interest is how Warren Parrish is quoted in footnote 31 to support the concept that:

… close observers also believed that the translation came by revelation.

“Translation and historicity of the Book of Abraham” as published on as of August 2023

I have set by his side and penned down the translation of the Egyptian Hieroglyphicks as he claimed to receive it by direct inspiration of Heaven.

Warren Parrish, footnote 31, “Translation and Historicity of the Book of Abraham” as published on as of August 2023

Vs. the actual context of the quote in which Parrish was arguing the translation was fraudulent and did not come by revelation:

I have set by his side and penned down the translation of the Egyptian Hieroglyphicks as he claimed to receive it by direct inspiration of Heaven… For the year past their lives have been one continued scene of lying, deception, and fraud, and that too, in the name of God.

Warren Parrish, Painesville Republican, Feb 15, 1838, As imaged and shared on from as of August 2023

Race and the Priesthood

Since 1978, worthy men can universally exercise priesthood authority within the LDS Church unlike the Church’s earlier days when “men of black African descent” were barred from being ordained to the priesthood.

During the first two decades of the Church’s existence, a few black men were ordained to the priesthood… There is no reliable evidence that any black men were denied the priesthood during Joseph Smith’s lifetime…

In 1852, President Brigham Young publicly announced that men of black African descent could no longer be ordained to the priesthood… subsequent Church presidents restricted blacks from receiving the temple endowment or being married in the temple. Over time, Church leaders and members advanced many theories to explain the priesthood and temple restrictions. None of these explanations is accepted today as the official doctrine of the Church.

In June 1978… Church President Spencer W. Kimball, his counselors in the First Presidency, and members of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles received a revelation… [that] rescinded the restriction on priesthood ordination. It also extended the blessings of the temple to all worthy Latter-day Saints, men and women.

Today, the Church disavows the theories advanced in the past that black skin is a sign of divine disfavor or curse, or that it reflects unrighteous actions in a premortal life; that mixed-race marriages are a sin; or that blacks or people of any other race or ethnicity are inferior in any way to anyone else. Church leaders today unequivocally condemn all racism, past and present, in any form.

“Race and the Priesthood” as published on as of August 2023

Regardless of arguments about Divine origins, the priesthood ban was by definition racist as race was the defining factor. It would appear then that the ban has been “unequivocally condemned” in this essay as “all racism, past and present, in any form” is “unequivocally condemned.” However, the essay does not more explicitly condemn or apologize for the priesthood ban.

Also of interest, the essay mentions:

President Young said that at some future day, black Church members would “have [all] the privilege and more” enjoyed by other members.

“Race and the Priesthood” as published on as of August 2023

Reading the speeches cited to support this quote as well as other quotes by Brigham Young, this “future day” was clearly not going to be while the Kingdom of God was still on earth and would only come after all others had first received their “blessings in the holy priesthood.”

I discuss this in more depth HERE and HERE.

Joseph Smith’s Teachings About Priesthood, Temple and Women.

Women exercise significantly less priesthood authority now within the LDS Church than in the early days of the Church.

Two aspects of Joseph Smith’s teachings to the women of the Relief Society may be unfamiliar to members of the Church today. First is his use of language associated with priesthood… Joseph spoke of “ordain[ing]” women and said that Relief Society officers would “preside over the Society.” He also declared, “I now turn the key to you in the name of God.” These statements indicate that Joseph Smith delegated priesthood authority to women in the Relief Society… John Taylor, who acted by assignment from Joseph Smith to “ordain and set apart” Emma Smith and her counselors, explained in 1880 that “the ordination then given did not mean the conferring of the Priesthood upon those sisters.”..

The second aspect of Joseph Smith’s teachings to the Relief Society that may be unfamiliar today is his endorsement of women’s participation in giving blessings of healing… Joseph Smith taught that the gift of healing was a sign that would follow “all that believe whether male or female.”.. During the 19th century, women frequently blessed the sick by the prayer of faith… Women’s participation in healing blessings gradually declined in the early 20th century as Church leaders taught that it was preferable to follow the New Testament directive to “call for the elders.”… Currently, the Church’s Handbook 2: Administering the Church directs that “only Melchizedek Priesthood holders may administer to the sick or afflicted.”…

In some respects, the relationship between Latter-day Saint women and priesthood has remained remarkably constant since Joseph Smith’s day… Men and women continue to officiate in sacred ordinances in temples much as they did in Joseph Smith’s day…

Today, Latter-day Saint women lead three organizations within the Church: the Relief Society, the Young Women, and the Primary. They preach and pray in congregations, fill numerous positions of leadership and service, participate in priesthood councils at the local and general levels, and serve formal proselytizing missions across the globe. In these and other ways, women exercise priesthood authority even though they are not ordained to priesthood office.

“Joseph Smith’s Teachings About Priesthood, Temple and Women” as published on as of August 2023

Mother In Heaven

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints teaches that all human beings, male and female, are beloved spirit children of heavenly parents, a Heavenly Father and a Heavenly Mother… While there is no record of a formal revelation to Joseph Smith on this doctrine, some early Latter-day Saint women recalled that he personally taught them about a Mother in Heaven… Subsequent Church leaders have affirmed the existence of a Mother in Heaven. In 1909, the First Presidency taught that “all men and women are in the similitude of the universal Father and Mother, and are literally the sons and daughters of Deity.”

Latter-day Saints direct their worship to Heavenly Father, in the name of Christ, and do not pray to Heavenly Mother… as President Gordon B. Hinckley said, “The fact that we do not pray to our Mother in Heaven in no way belittles or denigrates her.” Indeed, as Elder Rudger Clawson wrote, “We honor woman when we acknowledge Godhood in her eternal Prototype.”

As with many other truths of the gospel, our present knowledge about a Mother in Heaven is limited.

“Mother in Heaven” as published on as of August 2023

Numerous early church leaders talked of Heavenly Father’s multiple wives. D&C 132 also suggests as much. The essay doesn’t explore this. It’s possible this essay may also have been accurately titled, “Mothers in Heaven.”

Peace and Violence among 19th Century Latter-day Saints

… early Latter-day Saints did not obtain peace easily. They were persecuted, often violently, for their beliefs. And, tragically, at some points in the 19th century, most notably in the Mountain Meadows Massacre, some Church members participated in deplorable violence against people they perceived to be their enemies… While historical context can help shed light on these acts of violence, it does not excuse them.

In the first two decades after the Church was organized, Latter-day Saints were often the victims of violence… Mobs drove them from Jackson County, Missouri, in 1833; from the state of Missouri in 1839, after the governor of the state issued an order in late October 1838 that the Mormons be expelled from the state or “exterminated” and from their city of Nauvoo, Illinois, in 1846…

At the Latter-day Saint settlement of Far West, some leaders and members organized a paramilitary group known as the Danites, whose objective was to defend the community against dissident and excommunicated Latter-day Saints as well as other Missourians. Historians generally concur that Joseph Smith approved of the Danites but that he probably was not briefed on all their plans and likely did not sanction the full range of their activities. Danites intimidated Church dissenters and… clashed with their Missouri opponents, leading to a few fatalities on both sides [and] raided two towns believed to be centers of anti-Mormon activity, burning homes and stealing goods…

… Peaceful accommodation between Latter-day Saints and Indians was both the norm and the ideal. At times, however, Church members clashed violently with Indians…

At times… President Young… and other leaders preached with fiery rhetoric, warning against the evils of those who dissented from or opposed the Church… leaders taught that some sins were so serious that the perpetrator’s blood would have to be shed in order to receive forgiveness… This concept, which came to be known as blood atonement, was a stock component of anti-Mormon rhetoric in the 19th century. While many of the exaggerated claims that appeared in the popular press and anti-Mormon literature are easily disproven, it is likely that in at least one instance, a few Latter-day Saints acted on this rhetoric…

… in early September 1857, a branch of the territorial militia in southern Utah (composed entirely of Mormons), along with some Indians they recruited, laid siege to a wagon train of emigrants traveling from Arkansas to California. As the wagon train traveled south from Salt Lake City, the emigrants had clashed verbally with local Mormons over where they could graze their cattle… local Church leaders and members in Cedar City, Utah, advocated violence…

…militiamen planned and carried out a deliberate massacre. They lured the emigrants from their circled wagons with a false flag of truce and, aided by Paiute Indians they had recruited, slaughtered them. Between the first attack and the final slaughter, the massacre destroyed the lives of 120 men, women, and children in a valley known as Mountain Meadows. Only small children—those believed to be too young to be able to tell what had happened—were spared… The militiamen sought to cover up the crime by placing the entire blame on local Paiutes, some of whom were also members of the Church.

… In the early 2000s, historians in the Church History Department… scoured… historical records… on the massacre. In the resulting book, published by Oxford University Press in 2008, authors Ronald W. Walker, Richard E. Turley Jr., and Glen M. Leonard concluded that while intemperate preaching about outsiders by Brigham Young, George A. Smith, and other leaders contributed to a climate of hostility, President Young did not order the massacre…

Aside from the Mountain Meadows Massacre, a few Latter-day Saints committed other violent acts against a small number of dissenters and outsiders… The heated rhetoric of Church leaders directed toward dissenters may have led these Mormons to believe that such actions were justified. The perpetrators of these crimes were generally not punished…

Many people in the 19th century unjustly characterized the Latter-day Saints as a violent people. Yet the vast majority of Latter-day Saints, in the 19th century as today, lived in peace with their neighbors and families, and sought peace in their communities. Travelers in the 19th century often noted the peace and order that prevailed in Mormon communities in Utah and elsewhere. Nevertheless, the actions of relatively few Latter-day Saints caused death and injury, frayed community relationships, and damaged the perception of Mormons as a peaceful people…

Throughout the Church’s history, Church leaders have taught that the way of Christian discipleship is a path of peace.

“Peace and Violence among 19th Century Latter-day Saints” as published on as of August 2023

As mentioned in the essay, Joseph approved of the Danites but may not have known of their full range of activities. However, he clearly knew they were using violent means to achieve their ends. The following quote from Joseph Smith’s diary is not included in the essay:

…we have a company of Danites in these times, to put to rights physically that which is not righ[t], and to clense the Church of verry great evils which hath hitherto existed among us, inasmuch as they cannot be put to rights by teachings & persuaysons…

Joseph Smith diary, Missouri Journal, 1838, March to September, under July 27, 1838 as found on as of August 2023

Also of note, Governor Bogg’s “extermination order” mentioned in the essay is thought to have been in part a reaction to Sidney Rigdon’s July 4th oration at Far West.

And that mob that comes on us to disturb us; it shall be between us and them a war of extermination, for we will follow them, till the last drop of their blood is spilled, or else they will have to exterminate us: for we will carry the seat of war to their own houses, and their own families, and one party or the other shall be utterly destroyed.

Sidney Rigdon’s July 4, 1838 Far West Discourse as published on as of August 2023

The essay also mentions there is no proof Brigham Young ordered the Mountain Meadows Massacre. However, it fails to mention that for twenty years he obstructed the pursuit of justice, investigations, etc. into this matter.

Becoming Like God

Lorenzo Snow, the Church’s fifth President, coined a well-known couplet: “As man now is, God once was: As God now is, man may be.”…

Humankind’s divine nature and potential for exaltation have been repeatedly taught in general conference addresses, Church magazines, and other Church materials…

For some observers, the doctrine that humans should strive for godliness may evoke images of ancient pantheons with competing deities. Such images are incompatible with Latter-day Saint doctrine. Latter-day Saints believe that God’s children will always worship Him. Our progression will never change His identity as our Father and our God. Indeed, our exalted, eternal relationship with Him will be part of the “fulness of joy” He desires for us. Latter-day Saints also believe strongly in the fundamental unity of the divine. They believe that God the Father, Jesus Christ the Son, and the Holy Ghost, though distinct beings, are unified in purpose and doctrine. It is in this light that Latter-day Saints understand Jesus’s prayer for His disciples through the ages: “That they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us.”

… Latter-day Saints’ doctrine of exaltation is often… reduced in media to a cartoonish image of people receiving their own planets… while few Latter-day Saints would identify with caricatures of having their own planet, most would agree that the awe inspired by creation hints at our creative potential in the eternities….

… Latter-day Saints… see the seeds of godhood in the joy of bearing and nurturing children and the intense love they feel for those children… Church members imagine exaltation less through images of what they will get and more through the relationships they have now and how those relationships might be purified and elevated.

“Becoming Like God” as published on as of August 2023

This essay is an overview of important LDS stances on exaltation and the Divine worth, origin and potential of each human being. Based on D&C 132 and other passages of LDS canonical scripture the essay could also have been accurately titled, “Becoming gods.” The essay doesn’t specifically mention how concepts of plural marriage/polygamy as understood by the LDS faith were historically foundational to LDS concepts of “godhood.” The possibility of worthy LDS men being married to and procreating with multiple women in the next life remains an important element of LDS concepts of godhood and “eternal increase/eternal life/lives.”

Plural Marriage in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

Plural marriage was among the most challenging aspects of the Restoration. For many who practiced it, plural marriage was a trial of faith. It violated both cultural and legal norms, leading to persecution and revilement. Despite these hardships, plural marriage benefited the Church in innumerable ways. Through the lineage of these 19th-century Saints have come many Latter-day Saints who have been faithful to their gospel covenants as righteous mothers and fathers; loyal disciples of Jesus Christ; devoted Church members, leaders, and missionaries; and good citizens and prominent public officials. Modern Latter-day Saints honor and respect these faithful pioneers who gave so much for their faith, families, and community.

“Plural Marriage in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints” as published on as of August 2023

Plural Marriage in Kirtland and Nauvoo

During the era in which plural marriage was practiced, Latter-day Saints distinguished between sealings for time and eternity and sealings for eternity only. Sealings for time and eternity included commitments and relationships during this life, generally including the possibility of sexual relations. Eternity-only sealings indicated relationships in the next life alone. Evidence indicates that Joseph Smith participated in both types of sealings. The exact number of women to whom he was sealed in his lifetime is unknown because the evidence is fragmentary…

Most of those sealed to Joseph Smith were between 20 and 40 years of age at the time of their sealing to him. The oldest, Fanny Young, was 56 years old. The youngest was Helen Mar Kimball, daughter of Joseph’s close friends Heber C. and Vilate Murray Kimball, who was sealed to Joseph several months before her 15th birthday… [she] spoke of her sealing to Joseph as being “for eternity alone,” suggesting that the relationship did not involve sexual relations. After Joseph’s death, Helen remarried and became an articulate defender of him and of plural marriage… Joseph Smith was sealed to a number of women who were already married.

“Plural Marriage in Kirtland and Nauvoo” as published on as of August 2023

It’s not clear if 14-year-old Helen had sexual relations with 37-year-old Joseph or not. She agreed to marry Joseph after immense pressure from her father. Her reference of her marriage being for “eternity alone” is from a poem she wrote in which she “thought” her life would be her own, and the marriage for “eternity alone” as described in the first stanza. However, she describes in the second stanza of this same poem how she lost her freedoms because of the marriage and it impacted her life greatly, apparently not just for “eternity alone.” While Joseph was still alive, she was no longer allowed to attend social engagements, pursue romantic interests, etc. She made this clear in other communications as well. In the third stanza she comes to a reconciliation and acceptance of the suffering she experienced, that the heavy costs of it in this life would be worth the eternal glory she would receive. There is universal agreement Helen was a defender of plural marriage later in life.

  I thought through this life my time will be my own
     The step I now am taking’s for eternity alone,
     No one need be the wiser, through time I shall be free,
     And as the past hath been the future still will be.
     To my guileless heart all free from worldly care
     And full of blissful hopes and youthful visions rare
     The world seamed bright the thret’ning clouds were kept
     From sight and all looked fair…         

…but pitying angels wept.
     They saw my youthful friends grow shy and cold.
     And poisonous darts from sland’rous tongues were hurled,
     Untutor’d heart in thy gen’rous sacrafise,
     Thou dids’t not weigh the cost nor know the bitter price;
     Thy happy dreams all o’er thou’st doom’d also to be
     Bar’d out from social scenes by this thy destiny,
     And o’er thy sad’nd mem’ries of sweet departed joys
     Thy sicken’d heart will brood and imagine future woes,
     And like a fetter’d bird with wild and longing heart,
     Thou’lt dayly pine for freedom and murmor at thy lot;    

But could’st thou see the future & view that glorious crown, 
     Awaiting you in Heaven you would not weep nor mourn.
     Pure and exalted was thy father’s aim, he saw
     A glory in obeying this high celestial law,
     For to thousands who’ve died without the light
     I will bring eternal joy & make thy crown more bright.
     I’d been taught to reveire the Prophet of God
     And receive every word as the word of the Lord,
     But had this not come through my dear father’s mouth,
     I should ne’r have received it as God’s sacred truth.

Helen Mar Kimball

Plural Marriage and Families in Early Utah

This essay primarily addresses plural marriage as practiced by the Latter-day Saints between 1847 and 1890, following their exodus to the U.S. West and before the Manifesto…plural marriage was a religious principle that required personal sacrifice…

During the years that plural marriage was publicly taught, all Latter-day Saints were expected to accept the principle as a revelation from God. Not all, however, were expected to live it… Some men entered plural marriage because they were asked to do so by Church leaders, while others initiated the process themselves; all were required to obtain the approval of Church leaders before entering a plural marriage…

Church leaders recognized that plural marriages could be particularly difficult for women. Divorce was therefore available to women who were unhappy in their marriages; remarriage was also readily available…

Beginning in 1862, the U.S. government passed laws against the practice of plural marriage… After the U.S. Supreme Court found the anti-polygamy laws to be constitutional in 1879, federal officials began prosecuting polygamous husbands and wives during the 1880s. Believing these laws to be unjust, Latter-day Saints engaged in civil disobedience by continuing to practice plural marriage and by attempting to avoid arrest… By 1890… President Woodruff’s Manifesto lifted the command to practice plural marriage…

“Plural Marriage and Families in Early Utah” as published on as of August 2023

Official Declaration 1, Doctrine and Covenants

After receiving revelation, President Wilford Woodruff issued the following Manifesto, which was accepted by the Church as authoritative and binding on October 6, 1890. This led to the end of the practice of plural marriage in the Church.

To Whom It May Concern: Press dispatches having been sent for political purposes [that]… allege that plural marriages are still being solemnized…

I, therefore, as President of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, do hereby, in the most solemn manner, declare that these charges are false. We are not teaching polygamy or plural marriage, nor permitting any person to enter into its practice, and I deny that either forty or any other number of plural marriages have during that period been solemnized in our Temples or in any other place in the Territory… One case has been reported… but I have not been able to learn who performed the ceremony; whatever was done in this matter was without my knowledge…

Inasmuch as laws have been enacted by Congress forbidding plural marriages, which laws have been pronounced constitutional by the court of last resort, I hereby declare my intention to submit to those laws, and to use my influence with the members of the Church over which I preside to have them do likewise.

There is nothing in my teachings to the Church or in those of my associates, during the time specified, which can be reasonably construed to inculcate or encourage polygamy; and when any Elder of the Church has used language which appeared to convey any such teaching, he has been promptly reproved.

And I now publicly declare that my advice to the Latter-day Saints is to refrain from contracting any marriage forbidden by the law of the land.

… The Lord will never permit me or any other man who stands as President of this Church to lead you astray.

Official Declaration 1, Doctrine and Covenants

The Manifesto and the End of Plural Marriage

For much of the 19th century, a significant number of members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints practiced plural marriage—the marriage of one man to more than one woman… In 1890, President Wilford Woodruff issued the Manifesto, which led to the end of plural marriage in the Church…

The Manifesto declared President Woodruff’s intention to submit to the laws of the United States. It said nothing about the laws of other nations. Ever since the opening of colonies in Mexico and Canada, Church leaders had performed plural marriages in those countries, and after October 1890, plural marriages continued to be quietly performed there… Under exceptional circumstances, a smaller number of new plural marriages were performed in the United States between 1890 and 1904…

The exact process by which these marriages were approved remains unclear. For a time, post-Manifesto plural marriages required the approval of a member of the First Presidency. There is no definitive evidence, however, that the decisions were made by the First Presidency as a whole; President Woodruff, for example, typically referred requests to allow new plural marriages to President Cannon for his personal consideration…

At first, the performance of new plural marriages after the Manifesto was largely unknown to people outside the Church. When discovered, these marriages troubled many Americans…

After the election of B. H. Roberts, a member of the First Council of the Seventy, to the U.S. Congress, it became known that Roberts had three wives, one of whom he married after the Manifesto. A petition of 7 million signatures demanded that Roberts not be seated. Congress complied…

The exclusion of B. H. Roberts opened Mormon marital practices to renewed scrutiny…

At the April 1904 general conference, President Smith issued a forceful statement, known as the Second Manifesto, attaching penalties to entering into plural marriage…

The Second Manifesto was a watershed event. For the first time, Church members were put on notice that new plural marriages stood unapproved by God and the Church…

Marriage between one man and one woman is God’s standard for marriage, unless He declares otherwise, which He did through His prophet, Joseph Smith. The Manifesto marked the beginning of the return to monogamy, which is the standard of the Church today

“The Manifesto and the End of Plural Marriage” as published on as of August 2023

Are “Mormons” Christian?

Members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints unequivocally affirm themselves to be Christians. They worship God the Eternal Father in the name of Jesus Christ. When asked what the Latter-day Saints believe, Joseph Smith put Christ at the center: “The fundamental principles of our religion is the testimony of the apostles and prophets concerning Jesus Christ, ‘that he died, was buried, and rose again the third day, and ascended up into heaven;’ and all other things are only appendages to these, which pertain to our religion.”…

..some have claimed that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is not a Christian church. The most oft-used reasons are the following:

  • Latter-day Saints do not accept the creeds, confessions, and formulations of post–New Testament Christianity.
  • The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints does not descend through the historical line of traditional Christianity. That is, Latter-day Saints are not Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, or Protestant.
  • Latter-day Saints do not believe scripture consists of the Holy Bible alone but have an expanded canon of scripture that includes the Book of Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenants, and the Pearl of Great Price.

Latter-day Saints do not Accept the Creeds of Post-New Testament Christianity: Scholars have long acknowledged that the view of God held by the earliest Christians changed dramatically over the course of centuries…

Latter-day Saints believe the melding of early Christian theology with Greek philosophy was a grave error. Chief among the doctrines lost in this process was the nature of the Godhead. The true nature of God the Father, His Son, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Ghost was restored through the Prophet Joseph Smith. As a consequence, Latter-day Saints hold that God the Father is an embodied being, a belief consistent with the attributes ascribed to God by many early Christians. This Latter-day Saint belief differs from the post-New Testament creeds.

Whatever the doctrinal differences that exist between the Latter-day Saints and members of other Christian religions, the roles Latter-day Saints ascribe to members of the Godhead largely correspond with the views of others in the Christian world. Latter-day Saints believe that God is omnipotent, omniscient, and all-loving, and they pray to Him in the name of Jesus Christ. They acknowledge the Father as the ultimate object of their worship, the Son as Lord and Redeemer, and the Holy Spirit as the messenger and revealer of the Father and the Son. In short, Latter-day Saints do not accept the post–New Testament creeds yet rely deeply on each member of the Godhead in their daily religious devotion and worship, as did the early Christians.

Latter-day Saints Believe in a Restored Christianity…

Latter-day Saints Believe in an Open Canon…

“Are “Mormons” Christian?” as published on as of August 2023

The Witness of The Spirit

“The Witness of the Spirit” as granted after prayer and study is repeatedly cited in these essays as the way to come to know “the truth” regarding the faith-challenging content of many of these essays. What isn’t discussed is that other groups also preach this same method to come to know their (competing and often contradictory) truth claims and describe their sure witnesses in remarkably similar and sometimes identical ways as Latter-day Saints.

Jason Harris lived as an orthodox Mormon for forty years. He writes about his experiences leaving the Mormon Church and reconstructing a new World-View. He believes all religions and scripture are man-made, potentially helpful and harmful. He believes there is Divinity in all of them and everywhere.