Conversations about the religious and spiritual life on the other side of fundamentalism
081: Renshaw, Patterson & Grimes – Processing Polygamy

081: Renshaw, Patterson & Grimes – Processing Polygamy

Screen Shot 2014-10-29 at 9.13.52 AM120 years after the cessation of the practice Mormon polygamy still arouses very strong feelings, as the response to the latest essay bears witness.  Outside of the official rhetoric which positions the practice as historical (kind of) there are a multipicity of complex emotional reactions.  In this episode prominent members of the ‘A Thoughtful Faith’ community, Jeralee Henderson Renshaw, James Patterson, and Jon Grimes  discuss their personal positions on the topic of plural marriage and ponder on their feelings about Joseph Smith and his leadership, as both prophet and polygamist.


The Plural Marriage in Kirtland and Nauvoo Essay can be found here.


  1. Aggie Saint

    Thanks for the interesting podcast. I am 59 years old and frequently hear the comment that “I grew up in the Church and never knew that Joseph Smith practiced plural marriage” I grew up in Logan Utah and always believed that Joseph Smith practiced plural marriage. It was no big deal. It surprises me that that a person can attend Church, Seminary and a mission and never know about Joseph’s practice of plural marriage. Section 132 was mentioned in the podcast. One cannot read section 132 without clearly knowing it is about plural marriage. Many of my generation had older grandparents who lived in polygamous families. I remember reading Heber C Kimball’s biography as a young man which spoke frequently of plural marriage. I remember the story of when Joseph “tested” Heber and asked Heber if he (Joseph) could take Heber’s wife Violet as a plural wife of Joseph. I am merely saying that there are those of us who have probably studied the issue as much as your guests and have a different take than your fine guests. I do not discount your guests feelings. Is it okay to say that I believe in “Following the Prophet”? I even enjoy more the hymn which your podcast ended with “Nearer my God to Thee”. I do believe in a loving, merciful and perfect Heavenly Father.

    1. A Happy Hubby

      Aggie Saint – I too am a bit shocked that some lifers have “never” heard, but I would have to say that what I heard (in the “mission field”) was it was more of a Brigham Young thing. Correlation had Joseph setup where he would never be messing in this stuff like he did. Maybe he had A plural wife, but not 33 (or more) and some were told, “marry me or your family will be doomed.” I would assume people in Utah (with pioneer ancestors) would be more prone to know of it, but move way outside and talk about a convert of 20 years – they very well may have never heard of it.

      And speaking of correlation, I couldn’t keep track of which speaker was talking by name, but THANK YOU for whomever brought up the quote from Terryl Givens. The quote was something along the lines of, “This is the sacrificial generation – the ones caught between correlation and openness.” Boy – did that hit me as being SO true.

  2. Tiani (formerly TC)

    I missed this when it came out before. A very rich discussion (bit of a slow start) that suits, “A Thoughtful Faith.” So thank you. I think most of us begin with a desire to be thoughtful, but with so much ambiguity, complexity, contradiction, etc., and the pressure that bears down on us, calling us to be “in or out,” we can start to get calloused and a little less thoughtful. In trying to decide how to process, we may not only choose “out” of the Chuch, but we may also write off all of the valuable, deep meaningful spiritual experiences as sheer delusion. It’s a trust issue. The Church has set itself up in such a way that if you can’t trust the Church, you feel that you can’t trust anything that came from the Church — a tragic period of history. Hundreds of things I wish I could comment on; you pulled me in. I’m a woman, long time member through Joseph Knight, Sr. (through Polly Knight who was a polygamous wife of William Stringham). My dad has been bishop multiple times, stake presidency, Church Audio Visual Director Director in the early 70’s, mission president in the late 70’s, and now patriarch, and a close associate of Kimball, Packer, Ashton, Tuttle, etc. Growing up, we never talked about our family tree being polygamous; in fact, I didn’t know until after I was married. (I was born in Mexico, but NOT in the colonies, so I was safely distanced from polygamy.) I surely grew up with an understanding that Joseph introduced polygamy into the Church, but it was kind of under the impression that Emma had a problem with it, so Joseph only had a couple wives Emma agreed to. And that Brigham Young had many wives (to take care of all the widows whose husbands died because of persecution, war, etc.). I knew before getting married that polygamy might be something we’d be asked to live again (as a sacrifice), but first wife would have to give permission. So I told my husband, he wouldn’t have my permission, and I’d haunt him after I died. After I got married, I heard that Brigham Young and others had pronounced that polygamy WAS the celestial law of marriage, and that was the order of heaven, and that it was how a man would be exalted. I told my husband I just couldn’t believe that, that I could accept there’d be some polygamy, but I couldn’t accept that it was the real celestial order of things for everyone at the highest degree. He always thought he was better off not saying anything. I did read Orson Scott Card’s “Saints.” That, along with other things, gave me a glimmer that maybe in a very “pure” environment, once we more exalted and righteous, it might be o.k. Later, I read “Rough Stone Rolling,” fairly soon after it came out, which rocked me quite a bit. I spent years gaining a less black and white view of things. And I’ve had experiences where I see that we know so little about the afterlife and how it works, and all I need to know is that God’s presence is pure love and is good, way better than we can put words to, and so I haven’t been worried or concerned about what life is like there. But that doesn’t mean the current state of affairs, history I’ve discovered since then, and the essays don’t concern me. They are a huge concern. But I’ll have to make another comment later.

  3. Tiani

    Well, it would be nice to actually have a conversation with all of you.
    Too hard to do so on here. I’ll just say that I relate well to so many things said. John, I, too, feel like I’ve been profoundly influenced for the better by Joseph Smith, and also love the book of Moses. Of all people I’d like to meet and talk to first hand, Joseph Smith is certainly up there. It sure would help us figure some stuff out, wouldn’t it? There are many things out there that very well make it appear like he could have been an absolute fraud. Yet, it’s so hard for me to accept that because of the profound light and truth I’ve experienced through some of his fruits. To me, it actually makes more sense that he made lots of human mistakes, maybe even serious ones like David, but not someone who deliberately set out to fraudulently start a religion for purely selfish motives. And to be honest, with all of the stuff I experienced as an insider in Utah Republican politics (people really do this stuff?), it’s not hard for me to even believe that he could have been set up by someone like Bennett, capitalizing on Smith’s weaknesses, and partial truths in such a way that people believed stuff was coming from him that wasn’t, and honest people like the Laws, etc., turned against him. (Though I will admit that my research is lacking, and I don’t claim to know the answer as to what really happened or who he really was). I do have a problem with the angel with a flaming sword, D& C 132, the date of the “marriage” to Fanny Alger, etc. etc. My real concern, though, is today’s Church. If I felt like everything were really good in today’s Church, it would be easier to “walk by faith.” But so many things about our approach, our fruits (culture, priorities, etc.), our lack of integrity, etc. just aren’t right. The evidence that’s before us in the past, combined with the evidence in the present convinces me absolutely that our narrative is wrong. I think there’s a better narrative than “whole thing totally fraudulent,” though. Discussions for another day. One of the hardest things for me has been watching these essays come out and then listening to General Conference (April and October). Such a disconnect. So yes, number one for me, too, would be to proactively, officially adjust our view of what it means to be a “prophet.” But there are many, many others. Thank you, again.

  4. Tiani

    Sorry, but I need to make a correction to my first comment. Polly Knight was not a living polygamous wife of William Stringham. Three wives were sealed to William Stringham in Nauvoo in January of 1846. However, one had died before Polly married him, and Polly died in Nauvoo in 1844 before she was sealed in 1846, and apparently the 3rd wife was married and sealed in 1846. There are some polygamous stories of distant extended family, as well as my husband’s line, but not this direct line. (Makes more sense why I didn’t know much about it growing up).

  5. Kelly

    Great discussion! I really enjoyed this podcast. However, I was disappointed with the ending when the panelists stated that they don’t believe in polygamy, they don’t think it will ever be practiced in the future or in the afterlife, they’re ok living in ambiguity about the past, so it doesn’t matter. I also don’t believe that polygamy was inspired, and I don’t believe that I will ever be asked to practice it, but to me, yes it DOES matter because polygamy is so damaging. The church essay really bothered me, because it supports polygamy as an act of the early church; it supports Joseph grooming young girls; it supports the law of Sarah. Polygamy treats women as property and men as Bulls where their semen is more important than their nurturing. The more the church practiced polygamy, the more it became a form of slavery for women and a burden for men. “I think no more of taking a wife than I do of buying a cow”– heber kimball. Polygamy perverted the special love and friendship that people can have in an egalitarian union. When we look back at the practice of slavery, do we accept it as something quirky that made the United states a unique people? No! we shun it and say it was wrong. When a plantation owner forced enslaved women to have sex with him, so he could save money by breeding more slaves from his own loins, do we not find this reprehensible? Is this much different from polygamy. As a young girl growing up in the church, polygamy was a looming shadow– What if we are asked to practice it again, because it has only been suspended? What if my husband loves his other wife more, and I am left behind with only my womb and breasts of any value? At 14 (a few months shy of 15) when I learned of polygamy, I decided then and there to not marry a mormon and to never marry in the temple, but I still can’t escape it as a rumor came around that said that some men in the ward had divied all the single women and women married to non-members up in the ward of who will be the 2nd and 3rd wives–a very distasteful joke. For me, and I’m sure many other women, to ever come back to the church, the church needs to renounce polygamy completely, admit that it is sexist and degrading, and to stop blaming God for the disgusting things that Joseph smith, Brigham young, etc. did. I will never accept slavery as a historical necessity for industrialized progress nor will I ever accept polygamy as a necessity for procuring Mormonism.

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