I listened to a speaker who had promised herself she'd write a book called "The Rats of The Old Testament", so when the day came that she was asked to write a book in the area of her expertise regarding healing childhood trauma she first scribbled out a short book about "the rats" to fulfill a promise to herself. As I listened to her brief thoughts on "rats", I got to thinking.
LET'S DEFINE RAT
Who are the rats in the Bible? They're usually the good guys that let us down. At some point they demonstrated faith and valor and had so much strength that maybe we thought they were superhuman, but then something major happened and we realized they had flaws. But the flaws were not just minor. They were THE BIG ONES, the REALLY BAD NO-NO FLAWS.
Let me elaborate:
I can still hear the sound effects my dad would make telling me one of my most favorite bed time Bible stories in my childhood. He made the most glorious whooshing noise as he reenacted the sling that shot the smoothest of stones right between Goliath's eyes. Had there ever been so much faith in God demonstrated by anyone in the world as there was by the David who slew Goliath? Probably not. I still adore that David. But you know? That's the SAME David who lusted after the naked and bathing Bath-Sheba even tho he was married and she was married. Do you know what he did in order to hide adultery? He tried to cover up that he had sex with her by summoning her husband back home from war but the husband wouldn't come, so just short of getting his own hands dirty with blood, King David orchestrated the MURDER of Bath-Sheba's husband. Uriah died in the front lines of battle so that David could marry Bath-Sheba and make her pregnancy "acceptable." Despicable to say the least. David became a RAT!
I guess it turns out David needed Jesus just like the rest of us.
You know there's something else ironic about this story. Jesus himself (the King of Kings) was born out of King David's line of genealogy. But NOT the morally sanctioned lines. Jesus came from the posterity of the adulterously and murderously tainted bloodline created by David and Bathsheba.
I have wondered: Couldn't this world provide our Savior with anything better? Apparently not.
I used to be annoyed that the adulterers were rewarded with the Savior (of all people) on their line of posterity. Why weren't the people who made good choices rewarded with Jesus in their line?
But I don't think this sequence of events happened by coincidence. If God is real, if Jesus is real, if the Word is real, then there's a message that Jesus came to us and FOR us even in the most rotten of all of our sins.
Another quick example before I get to my main points: Let's think about JUDAH--as in the revered man who started the tribe of the Jews--the one the Bible's writings are named after referring to "the stick of Judah". THAT man had sex with a harlot, but not just any harlot, it ended up being HIS DAUGHTER IN LAW (soooooo sick and wrong). They had not just one child but TWINS came from that encounter! Judah was a RAT. Yuck. And let's not even mention how he treated his little brother.
How interesting that Jesus himself bears the title, "King of the Jews". It turns out that Jesus' genealogy is ALSO tied to the posterity that came from Judah and his daughter-in-law who "played the harlot".
So let's get on to Joseph Smith: The prophet of the restoration. The boy who saw angels, who even saw God the Father and the Son. The boy who braved getting his leg cut into without alcohol for anesthesia and who cared more about his mother not being in the room than his own pain. The boy who with little education miraculously translated ancient text from the Golden Plates that became the Book of Mormon and whose influence transformed a portion of the Christian world into what's become a world wide church with millions of members. The man who never turned back on his testimony, who lost children to exposure because of the mobs and persecution who tarred and feathered him in the bitter cold (but he still stood to preach a sermon the next morning in extreme internal and external pain). The one who DIED IN THE TESTIMONY OF JESUS as a martyr beside his brother Hyrum. THAT Joseph Smith.
There is a scripture prophesied that says "good AND evil will be spoken" of him. But here is my question to you: WHAT IF the evil spoken of Joseph Smith (whether blown out of proportion or not) were true? WHAT IF it were true to ANY degree?
A lot of eyebrow raising things have been said of him. Mostly about polygamy. That he was in it for sex. That men were sent away on missions so the church leaders could steal and marry their wives and the younger women. That people in the church were actually punished for not wanting to be polygamous. Not to mention that radical offshoots of the Mormon faith have produced individuals like Warren Jeffs. That polygamy was used to subjugate, manipulate, and control women, and there are even journals to prove it. These are the uncomfortable things that have been said about the beginning days of a church and people that I belong to and dearly love. It hurts to hear these things.
Because I practice being honest I'll say that I have never liked the idea of polygamy or it's association with my religion and I have also never fully understood it. Some explanations people give to justify or make sense of it have just made it feel even worse to me. I've also had irrational fears associated with how I understood certain scriptures and concepts related to polygamy. I've had the abstract idea that polygamy could affect me at some point of my life or even after this life (even if only in the event of my death and husband's potential remarriage OR in the event that the scripture about 7 women needing claim to 1 man might be fulfilled in my lifetime since after all we are taught that we live in the "last days"). Those ideas and others affected choices I made in dating and marriage and the topic has tried my faith. When I was 19, as a church institute scholar and eventual graduate, after studying the Doctrine and Covenants in depth, I deliberately wanted to know (but purposely refrained from asking God) if polygamy would ever be required of ME because I FEARED so DEEPLY that the answer would be yes. I knew if I prayed God WOULD tell me, so 14 years ago I chose NOT to pray about it. I even remember where I was when I made the decision to not ask God at that time. I was terrified of the "yes" answer that I believed would surely come because I clearly understood what was written in the Doctrine and Covenants regarding the nuances of "the new and everlasting covenant" vs "a new and everlasting covenant." I didn't need the 80 page document that circulates the internet to understand that nuance because I understood what was implied by those passages because I studied the scriptures in depth.
It wasn't until recently (as in a few months ago) that I was brave enough to talk to God about it. To finally tell Him about my anger and upset on these religion related issues. The distinct impression I got back from Him was, "If you're that afraid of me, then you don't know me."
That was a personally pivotal answer that changed the way I looked at things. Thank goodness our God is not a respector of persons--not of race, and certainly not of gender.
Everyone on this earth may end up walking a path that brings them suffering, and horrible things do happen to good people, and sad stories may be written of anyone at any point in their life, but Christ can take any of our stories and any of our heartbreaks and turn it into something good later. God himself is not the one who manipulates anyone to do anything to anyone else. Forcing people into situations they don't want to be in sometimes happens because of circumstances we cannot control or because of the choices of others, and when we're stuck in a situation like that is sometimes when God helps us the most but if we believe God wants to manipulate us then maybe we don't know Him.
So back to the point of all of this. Did Jospeh start polygamy for sex?
It's been argued that because he didn't have babies with anyone besides Emma, and because he was definitely fertile, it's likely that he didn't have sex with all of them and possibly none of them besides Emma. But we live in a day where we understand that there are many ways to be sexual besides the traditional way that makes babies...so unfortunately having no offspring from other wives may be EVIDENCE but CANNOT actually PROVE that he didn't have sex with them.
If he did have sex with more women than Emma, does that make him a rat?
Some say yes.
Some say no.
I say I hope not, and I don't really think so, but since we cannot prove either way, I feel that IF HE WAS a "rat" as has been defined above, then he would be in good company with the other rats in the scriptures. It would mean he needs Jesus, just like the rest of us. It would mean he needs Jesus just like David did. Just like Judah. Just like you. Just like me.
It's possible that perhaps back in those early days some things were taken a little out of context by an overly zealous and eager group of people who were anxious to serve the Lord (maybe even blindly). And even if some subjugation of women happened BECAUSE of polygamy, even if some sexism happened and still lingers in some circles still today, and even if some unrighteous dominion happened or still happens, EVEN IF there has been a negative ripple effect from this topic there are still good things to be found within and because of the LDS church and its people too.
There are many things that I don't know and can't prove about controversial and historical moments in my church's history, but one thing I do know is that the church I belong to has blessed my life tremendously.
I have had personal and miraculous blessings because of the priesthood. I can say that my life path as a member of the church has been a necessary part of my personal path to find God, even tho I do believe God will make himself known to the pure in heart no matter what walk of life they are in.
Because the message of the restored gospel is beautiful, Joseph Smith is highly esteemed among Latter-Day Saints. But this can be tricky territory for most members who don't want to hear anything bad of him (even tho it was prophesied bad things would be said), because if you think he is so superhuman that he wasn't human, if you think he did no wrong, then when you find out or finally allow yourself to question the evil that has been spoken of him and if there were in fact ANY TRUTH to the evil that was spoken, it is likely to make you wonder if there is any truth whatsoever to anything you have ever been brought to believe.
Personally, I don't think that kind of crumbling is a bad thing, though. It is a necessary experience in order to help all of us find out who Jesus really is to each of us. We need to have our faith and trust centered on Jesus Christ alone and in a personal way.
WHERE I STAND:
I believe God uses broken people all over the world to accomplish His work.
I am pretty sure that God ONLY has broken people to work with. Unfortunately some of the people who do the greatest work for Him can also be some of the people whose choices can cause the greatest harm. It may not always be intentional.
I personally do believe that Joseph Smith saw God the Father and the Son. I do believe the Book of Mormon is inspired scripture, and I do believe that he was the prophet of the restoration who the Lord used to bring the priesthood and its ordinances back to the earth.
I know he was human though, and so are all people. I CANNOT and do not care so much about the answers to this particular controversy regarding the prophet of the restoration (for good or for evil). I especially cannot worry about it to the point that it becomes an ultimately deciding factor in keeping me in or out of the Mormon church and here is why: If I think Joseph Smith was a perfect person and then in research find out that he wasn't and then drop everything in my faith, then that means this whole time I believed (or that I was taught to believe) in Joseph Smith MORE THAN Jesus. It could also mean that I believed in perfectionism more than Jesus (which in my eyes could be a type of putting 'other gods' before the One I worship). I can emphatically say that that is not what my parents were trying to teach me by raising me in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.
I can say the domino effect of polygamy in my church's history has affected me personally even being generations away from it, but I cannot focus on that. JUST LIKE I cannot focus on David's fall to negate the positive message I learned from the time he slew Goliath. Just like I cannot worry about the mistakes of others in the Bible--I still read the Bible even though it is considered to be "the stick of Judah", and even though Judah wasn't very nice.
There are good choices and bad choices recorded in all of history.
There are quality moments and blinding imperfections in my own life.
But I believe in Jesus Christ alone. I do believe that he came to save us all. He came for worst of us, for the best of us, and He walks all of our paths WITH us. He knows us. One of the most beautiful things that Jesus Christ does is give us a promise that someday all the hurt that was caused by the choices of others will be made right… Even if they were people who were well respected or well revered or even people who were not well known.... Someday all of the pains whether intentional or unintentionally afflicted on others will be made right again. Because of this everything that's been said for good or evil about Joseph Smith, no matter what may be true or not true of all the claims made, I cannot care about the details of that moment in time more than I care about Jesus' grace and ability to fix it someday.
I'm here to say that Joseph Smith, David, and Judah are individuals who are no better or worse than I am.
I want Jesus to call my name. I want Him to call theirs. I want Jesus to heal every person in this world, and I trust in Jesus Christ more than anyone else in history. Jesus is the ultimate Good Guy. He takes our good deeds and makes them more than what we could have made ourselves. He can do His work through broken people and despite blinding imperfections BECAUSE Jesus is the One who paid the price for the Rat inside of us all.
(Picture from LDS Media Library)
1 Samuel 17, 2 Samuel 11, Genesis 38, Joseph Smith History, Isaiah 4:1, Doctrine and Covenants 132