Conversations about the religious and spiritual life on the other side of fundamentalism
234: The Plural Marriage Revelation and its Nauvoo Context: William V. Smith

234: The Plural Marriage Revelation and its Nauvoo Context: William V. Smith

Credit: Globe Theatre

William V. Smith joins me to discuss his forthcoming book, ‘Textual Studies of the Doctrine and Covenants:  The Plural Marriage Revelation.’

Section 132 continues to be a thorn in the side of the LDS church, yet it is the foundation for much of Mormonism’s temple, marriage, gender, and family theology.   Bill and I discuss the social and historical context out of which section 132 emerged, how to read the text, and how it can be understood.


  1. ^^And by this I mean, “well we don’t read the gospels in context so let’s just pretend section 132 isn’t a horrific mess.” How about–just go with me here–we read them ALL in context? (And in the process realize that 132 is a disaster and needs to go.)

  2. Isaac

    The fact that there is NO explicit command from God to live polygamy (in the bible), should be enough reason to question the need for it in order to be “exalted” or go to heaven. Once the Mormons were in Utah, and the LDS leaders openly taught and lived polygamy after 1852, the doctrine of polygamy became so embellished and morbid through Brigham Young! Insane stuff: old men marrying young women, other men’s wives, and overall exploitation of women (some of my own ancestors included)!
    But this podcast is great to see a little more into the origin of Mormon polygamy. Joseph Smith seems to be quite the creative, sexual, and fanatical man. Thank you for your approach to this topic, Gina!
    Now, in a social context, I am fine with consenting adults choosing to live polyandrous and polygamous (etc…) relationships, marriage, etc. IF (and only if) children and animals are never involved. As long as there is no exploitation of women and girls AND every person is/are in the polygamous relationships by choice and freewill. I simply do not believe that polygamy is required to enter the “highest” kingdom (VIP celestial heaven).
    There is biblical support for God’s allowance for various forms of marriage: monogamy (Genesis 1:27), polygamy (Genesis 16; 2 Chronicles 13:21; 2 Samuel 5:13…, among others), and celibacy (Matthew 19). (There is not a command to specifically live each or exclusively one type of marriage, but at least there is an absence of condemning such practices like polygamy and celibacy – as seen in the biblical passages – above references)
    Growing up in an LDS community in Utah, I was never taught about anything but being married in the temple as a viable option. The more I learn about biblical history and teachings, I see that there are several options for marriage, relationships, and non-marital statuses. Without a religion forcing one’s view of the biblical text, one can see a lot of interesting stuff for marriage and various relationships in the bible.

  3. Henry Lewis

    Question for Bill Smith: you quoted or paraphrased a young man who lived in Nauvoo, IL, in the 1840s who said something to the effect, “It was difficult to find a girl to date in Nauvoo because a man never knew for sure which girl was secretly married to one of the church leaders …etc” Will you provide a source for that reference? Loved this interview, Gina. I agree with you: wow, is is wild stuff. Thanks!

  4. Jake

    Wow, this episode was bad. Like, really bad. Gina, your questioning shows you know very little about the subject matter and you are not willing to look at D&C 132 in anything but a negative context. Your biased questioning shows you clearly were searching for reasons to show D&C 132 should not be viewed as revelation and because of this you stopped William from talking what he was actually there to talk about. You were hardly able to discuss the text, let alone go to a deeper level with the text and understand it in the theological and Nauvoo context, because you were so busy saying something along the lines of “Oh, this is icky!”

    So, my advice is that if you plan on interviewing someone about their “textual studies” you should probably know what you’re talking about and stop trying to push your agenda. Otherwise you get a painfully amateurish episode, like this one.

    1. Gina Colvin

      Context is a text of sorts and we did spend a lot of time talking about that. Of course in hermeneutics and exegesis context is everything. You can’t possibly understand sacred text without taking account of the social environment out of which it emerged.

      So, no we didn’t talk much about text itself – but you could buy the book if you are interested in that.

      But, I suspect you are just pissed because the questions I asked didn’t shroud the revelation with the holy covering you might have appreciated. If you want apologetics then move along. But if you would like a robust discussion then suspend your annoyance that you didn’t get the story you wanted and take a decent listen to what was going on. Bill didn’t have an issue with the interview and from that it would suggest I did my job very well indeed.

      1. Jake

        I’m not looking for an apologetic response, but I do expect the host to be informed on the subject matter, refrain from pushing his or her own agenda, and have a discussion about what the guest is there to talk about. The discussion was anything but robust. For example we get nuggets like:

        “It’s kind of arrogant, don’t you think [for Joseph Smith to say he received an understanding of the behavior of Abraham]. Like, Joseph Smith, he’s not schooled at all…”

        “I’m just sitting here thinking this is so awful.”

        “With all of these shenanigans going on, it sounds dreadful…”

        “What’s the good stuff we want to talk about?… It seemed to be a manipulative, missive in many respects to Emma, to get her to pull her socks up and get her to do as Joseph wanted her to, so you can’t read it outside of that.”

        “I’m reading [this] through the hermeneutics of feminist suspicion and I just feel I’m just like property that a man gets to carry through eternities.”

        We get accusations of adultery with “It’s one thing to have an adulterous husband, but another one to say actually that God commands me to, and not just one person, but anyone I like. It’s just offensive on so many levels”

        And, “It seems to me Joseph was prooftexting the Bible for justification for what was going on in his own head, in his own loin cloth, or his own trousers…. Seems awfully convenient.”

        This to me speaks of someone who is not well informed on the subject matter, as your accusations of sexual impropriety and then just conveniently using revelation to justify it clearly does not satisfactorily explain the practice of plural marriage. Richard Bushman and Brian Hales make this abundantly clear when we actually look at the full picture and the nature of the relationships involved. Also, trying to read an 1843 document through a feminist hermeneutic is most certainly taking the text out of context.

        For an example of a robust conversation with Bill and a refreshing lack of forced feminist perspectives on the text and a lack of uninformed chiding remarks against Joseph and the practice of polygamy in general, check out Brian Whitney’s interview with him:

        1. Gina Colvin

          Aaah! Objectivity! Yes, objectively is a preoccupation of the patriarchy. Of course its all a nonsense but hiding behind the charade of neutrality isn’t innocent. It’s just a strategy to preserve the misogynistic status quo.

          A feminist hermeneutics of suspicion is absolutely what the church needs to be eyed with in order redeem it.

          And did I really say all if that? Jeppers I’m good!

          And Brian Whitney is awesome sauce! But, I’m not Brian and he’s not me but we often collaborate because its better that way. Hope you can see it in this vein.

  5. I agree with Jacob here. (He is my son so perhaps we see things similarly because we have something in common 🙂 Instead of allowing the author to address what he had written you insisted on simply promoting your agenda, judging D&C 132 without understanding what the author had written and continually getting in his when he tried repeatedly to talk about his book instead of your biases that had nothing to do with what he had written.

    And if you insist that a feminist hermeneutic demands not even striving for some kind of objectivity, then so much the worse for your hermeneutic — based apparently on the notion that you can just judge based on your biases without trying to overcome them. It is an arrogant and judgmental and unreliable approach. Your so-called feminist hermeneutic is not what anyone needs — indeed, a lack of charity seems to be the worst approach that one can adopt. In philosophy we adopt a rule of charitable reading to address positions in their strongest forms, not as a caricature of your biases. Indeed, your approach results in exactly what happened in your interview: refusal to listen, uncharitable readings, caricatures, straw men and failure to address a position in its strongest form because treating in a weaker form is simply misleading and tells us nothing except the biases of the person setting him or herself up as judge, jury and executioner.

    1. Gina Colvin

      I’m not a philosopher. By training I’m a discourse analyst which means I’m trained to smell a rat. If there’s a rat, there’s a story. You just didn’t like the story because you are vested in the patriarchy. I don’t care for that story and that’s what pisses you off. I have no charity for Joseph over Emma. I have no ‘charity’ for any system that objectifies and oppresses women. That doesn’t make me uncharitable that makes me Christian. You should try Christianity sometime! It doesn’t make friends of those who benefit from an unequal system – but it never did.

      1. By training I am both an analytic philosopher and an attorney specializing in employment law in general and gender discrimination claims in particular. I have represented both women with harassment and discrimination claims and men because, well, you know, not all men are pigs despite your so-called “hermeneutic of suspicion” (I call it your prior stance of assumed superiority and bias).

        As I heard it in his voice, your asking Smith if D&C 132 was inspired was clearly something that made him uncomfortable, his book does not address the issue and he disagreed with you when you imposed your biased moral assessments on him (all based on information your appear to know very little about). It surely appears to me that you were not interested in learning from his research but had already concluded your view of the matter and therefore did not really need to hear from him — all while running ramshod over him because you appeared to be more interested in hearing your own biases confirmed than learning what he had to say. You never even got around the subjects addressed in his books at all. I say of all this as a possibility of learning from the experience and receiving honest feedback.

        Your general approach is the kind of thing I love to cross-examine on the stand because it falls apart real fast when exposed for what it is — special pleading for bias without evidence. But worse it is simple license to ignore confirmation bias and assume a stance of supposed moral superiority when it is really just a stance of superiority. Ain’t that a bit funny given all off your talk about equality? I prefer a view that openly admits biases, seeks to learn from those who have done the research, listens rather than imposes, and seeks to recognize our cognitive limitations.

        Further, the kind of statement you make– “try Christianity sometime” — reeks to high heaven of arrogance, superiority and judgment. The hermeneutic you purport to sponsor is the least Christian way to approach issues. It is passing strange to me that you think this kind of assumed superiority and arrogance adopted in the name of a hermeneutic is anything at all like Christianity.

        1. Joshua

          The irony of Blake Ostler chiding someone for arrogance, confirmation bias and trying to define what Christianity is thick and ridiculous.

          You may actually get a few more people to consider your points and weigh your advise if you weren’t so determine to drown them out to hear yourself speaking, Blake.

    2. Honestly it doesn’t even require a hermeneutic of suspicion to understand that D&C 132 is bullocks. While I believe a hermeneutic of suspicion has a place, ultimately I prefer to view scripture through a hermeneutic of generosity. Still, the most generous reading of D&C 132 is: throw the whole thing out, it’s a catastrophic disaster.

      1. Jake

        Katie, the ignorance in your last comment speaks volumes. Yeah, just throw out sealings and eternal marriage, there’s nothing generous about being able to “be gods, because they have no end; therefore shall they be from everlasting to everlasting, because they continue; then shall they be above all, because all things are subject unto them. Then shall they be gods, because they have all power, and the angels are subject unto them.” /s

        I mean, come on. Are you serious?

        1. Sandy Hellebrand

          Your insults speak volumes.
          Inequality and oppression from everlasting to everlasting and you think everyone else is biased?

          Some people can leave the criticism of section 132 but they can’t leave it alone…

        2. Gina Colvin

          Well, in fairness YOU get to be a God. Women get to be blah blah unto their husbands. So, THAT’S a great deal for women! But apparently being concerned about that is uncharitable.

          Katie’s comment speaks wonderful volumes about how untenable this is for women. Dude, it’s wrong and if God is the architect of it then that God’s not worth much to women. Eternal misogyny. No thanks.

          1. Jake

            I don’t see any qualifier in that verse. They shall be gods, speaking of man and woman. No oppression. No misogyny. You both appear to be so blinded by you “feminist hermeneutic”, that you’re seeing things that simply aren’t there.

          2. Gina Colvin

            Or maybe your misogynistic hermeneutic has you imputing beauty to something that just isn’t there. Dude!

            61. And again, as pertaining to the law of the priesthood—if any man espouse a virgin, and desire to espouse another, and the first give her consent, and if he espouse the second, and they are virgins, and have vowed to no other man, then is he justified; he cannot commit adultery for they are given unto him; for he cannot commit adultery with that that belongeth unto him and to no one else.

            62 And if he have ten virgins given unto him by this law, he cannot commit adultery, for they belong to him, and they are given unto him; therefore is he justified.

            You can’t make a silk purse of a sour’s ear! You could turn this upside down and it’s still a bad deal!


          3. Jake

            These verses don’t appear to be pertaining to a sealing, but rather a polygamous relationship for time. The evidence for this is we suddenly see the verb “espouse” with no mention of covenants or being “given in marriage.”, which is quite different from what we saw earlier when the revelation was speaking about eternal marriage and sealings. So, this is a different type of relationship and does not pertain to the eternities.

            This is why it’s actually important to read the text in context, which was my initial concern with how you ran this episode. Now, you’ll probably still be angry, because that still seems to be “unfair” to women here in this life. Well, got news for you. Life isn’t fair. God isn’t about being fair. God is about being just and allowing us to experience what we need to learn to be in a indwelling loving relationship like he is in the Godhead.

          4. Jake

            Ah, the ad hominem. The true sign the other person is unable to argue against the opposition and is only able to continue the discussion in an uncivil manner.

          5. “Dude says God gives him permission to screw 10 virgins in this life only and it’s not adultery and this isn’t ‘fair’ but it does make a woman divine just like God the Father is in relationship with the rest of the Godhead.”

            Ladies and gentlemen, the “good news” of Mormonism 😂

          6. Wow — your comment here Gina speaks volumes about your ignorance of what D&C 132 actually says. You should have actually read or taken the opportunity to listen to Smith your interview because he blasts this kind of BS comment out of the water.

          7. Jake

            Laurie, once again this feminist view, which is the lens the author is looking through at Feminist Mormon Housewives, is limiting understanding. The author misses the understanding that all of our rituals and ordinances in the temple are symbolic and are a ritualistic drama of our lives here and now. You are both Adam *and* Eve. “Brethren and sisters, this couple at the altar represent all of you as if at the altar.” Eve is symbolic of your body and Adam is symbolic of your spirit. This is why Eve at times must make covenants with Adam, and then Adam with God, as in this life the body should be subject to the spirit.

  6. Peter

    It was clear from William’s comments throughout the dialogue that he understood where Gina was coming from and didn’t disagree, and perhaps appreciated her saying things he did not feel he could so bluntly, I thought it was a balanced dialogue.

    It is essential when talking about polygamy in general and the specifics of the appallingly manipulative and disloyal things Joseph did practicing it, and about a text that if you read it straight through is riddled with hypocrisy and contradictions and treating women as property with no rights at all to object to being given as plural wives or added to by them, to remind everyone how insane and evil so much of this very flawed document is.

    It cannot be sanitised however hard you try. Neutral objectivity about such things should be impossible because of the empathy and rage it engenders for Emma and poor “virgins” disempowered and surrounded by male authority, spiritual blackmail, coersion and sexual desire to entrap them in polygamy. As has been said, the detailed textual analysis is in the book apparently.

    You don’t need to be a motivated feminist to see how poisonously dysfunctional D and C 132 is. Someone has to do some incredulous freaking out along the way or you are not having an intellectually honest analysis of this car crash that Emma sensibly threw into the fire.

    The great news though is that it says after you are sealed in the temple you can commit any bloody sin you want to except the unforgivable one and your exaltation is guaranteed after a bit of punitive buffeting by Satan, so party on!! Bruce R McConkie had to walk that back later when they realised it gives out callings and elections made sure like confetti to everyone who is sealed, but that’s what it actually says still! I wonder if William noticed that when writing the book. Well done both of you!

  7. Gina have you even read the work of Brian Hales regarding sealings for time? If you think Jacob is smoking dope it merely demonstrates that you have not done your homework and don’t even begin to understand what D&C 132 in particular or Joseph’s sealing in general were intended to accomplish.

    1. Gina Colvin

      No Blake! What you see is not ignorance – its rejection! Flat out rejection. You can try and twist and sophisticate it however you like, but it was bollocks then, its bollocks now. It’s YOU who doesn’t understand that real lives were ruined by this warped cosmological fantasy of Joseph’s. You men. Get off your bloody polygamous high horses would you!! Or go down to Hilldale and take a look at what happens to real lives who live into this utterly vomitous disgusting misogynistic joke of a doctrine.

      You should be ashamed of yourself!!

      1. Jake

        Well Gina, you’ve begun moderating my comments, so I guess you get to preserve your feminist hermeneutic. The problem is you’ve made up your mind about section 132 and refuse to let the text be anything other that what you’ve decided. This approach is just as the one that has decided the destruction of Sodom is all about condemning homosexuality. You’re limiting the power of scripture and what it can teach you.

  8. Tracy Austin

    Wow, talk about a vicious way of debating, it takes my breath away.

    You should learn to pull yourself in and act in a Christian way. You are letting yourselves down.

    The podcast is between William and Gina, if William has an issue with the interview style, he should raise with Gina. I am sure he is a big lad and doesn’t need you two going off on one.

    To polygamy and Section 132.

    If polygamy is a core doctrine of Mormonism, why were the missionaries dishonest with me when I asked about polygamy during my discussions?

    I was told that polygamy was no longer practiced by the church. A lie.

    I was told it was only a few men who practiced polygamy back in the day and they were asked to marry a few unfortunate widows to offer them a system of welfare and support. Utter tosh.

    It was only practiced for a short time to restore the principle as part of the restoration of all things, a couple of years at most. Blatant hogwash.

    The missionaries did not explain to me how polygamy is a core part of Mormon doctrine, which continues today. I was told it had stopped.

    They did not explain the principle of eternal families in its fullest. They didn’t tell me how church leaders had previously taught there were different tiers in the CK, and to gain access to the highest, one would need to enter into plural marriage.

    Polygamy did not feature in the discussion about the plan of salvation, it was not mentioned as part of the discourse of eternal families.

    I asked an honest question about polygamy, and they failed to deliver. Polygamy would not have been presented to me in the discussions. Huh, not taught in our discussions, but it is a core element in Mormon doctrine. It’s not like the whole world doesn’t know about bloody polygamy and the Mormons. Worst kept secret ever, just like Joseph’s practice of it.

    I don’t wish to go on and one. However, people who allegedly represented Christ on the earth lied to me, their church sponsored discussions missed a central element of the faith. I asked a question, I sincerely wanted to know about polygamy.

    I will be generous, they did not understand the doctrine of the religion that they were allegedly called to teach. I hold no hard feelings.

    I don’t blame the missionaries. I gave the same half baked response when I was a missionary. I didn’t know any better.

    I was a good follower who did what I was told. I did not delve outside of the correlated materials that the church gave to me. Strict obedience.

    I was told by other members and leaders to put my doubts about polygamy on a shelf. I duly put the widows and the soldiers on the shelf, although even the thought of it was enough to give me dissonance.

    When I read a book about polygamy in the early 2000’s, it shook my testimony to the core. I did what any good Mormon person would do and stopped reading. Strict obedience.

    In the 30 years as an honest, hard working member, I was never taught about polygamy in the correlated version of the church that I lived and breathed.

    I lived abroad, had limited funds and limited access to non type of publications. The essays were nowhere to be seen.

    Then, someone mentioned polyandry. Time had moved on, I dived into the essays and Fair Mormon. The information presented shook my earth. I pleaded to know if this was from God.

    I gained a testimony, based on the evidence and data presented – it was not of God. It doesn’t make me believe that there isn’t good in Mormonism, there simply is good there.

    Polygamy appears to me to be our dirty little secret.

    Why was it whitewashed?

    Why does it continue to be whitewashed within the mainstream?

    Why don’t we claim our belief in polygamy in the mainstream of our teachings at church?

    The missionaries and we as a church hot foot away from the topic. Why?

    I’ve concluded many reasons why the missionaries taught me what they taught me that day about polygamy. I have my own opinions about why we publicly shy away from polygamy as a church. I honor your views that they are different from my views.

    This was an introduction to William’s book. Despite not agreeing with polygamy being of God, I intend to read his book.

    Gina is pretty transparent in her podcasts, what you see is what you get.

    William knew her style before coming onto the podcast. Why should she change her style for William? In a past life, I was involved in media work, I always knew what I was getting into and if I didn’t like a particular way of working, I would decline.

    I’d ask that you both pop back into your box.

    You do not represent the majority of people who listen to Gina’s podcast. There are other places for you to dwell. I believe you are good people, but trolling is a weak mode operandi. You can do better.

    I wish you and your families nothing but the best.

  9. David


    Perhaps a little humility goes along way… you do often have a nasty tone towards men in general.It’s sad really, because I really do like your style and way of thinking, but you don’t need to impose so hard on the people you are interviewing. That said, Bill handled the whole thing in spades, and I walked away very impressed with his perspectives and wanting to learn more from him.

    A little validation and offer some respect in the future would have avoided this whole debacle, but it appears as if you would have no other way.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *