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Joseph Smith - Honest Seer or Lying Polygamist

4. Joseph was sealed to men and women. They were not sexual relationships.

Joseph wasn't creating marriages of extra wives. He was creating sealings of individuals to him.
The doctrine or sealing power of Elijah is as follows if you have power to seal on earth & in heaven then we should be Crafty, the first thing you do go & seal on earth your sons & daughters unto yourself, & yourself unto your fathers in eternal glory, & go ahead and not go back, but use a little Craftiness & seal all you can; & when you get to heaven tell your father that what you seal on earth should be sealed in heaven. (Words of Joseph Smith, p. 331, Wilford Woodruff's report)
Notice how the purpose of the marriages or sealings are explained by Joseph to Mary Elizabeth Rollins.
Smith also told Mary, "I know that I shall be saved in the Kingdom of God. I have the oath of God upon it and God cannot lie. All that he gives me I shall take with me for I have that authority and that power conferred upon me." (In Sacred Loneliness, p. 212)
Notice also that when the women give an affidavit to testify about their link with Joseph, they DON'T say that they married him, they say, "married or sealed." For one of them she only says they were sealed.

Quotes from affidavits
Zina Huntington - "married or sealed to Joseph Smith" signed May 1, 1869 
Presendia Huntington - "married or sealed to Joseph Smith" signed May 1, 1869 
Louisa Beaman - Joseph Bates Noble states on June 6, 1869 that he
"married or sealed Louisa Beaman to Joseph Smith"
Martha McBride - "married or sealed to Joseph Smith" signed July 8, 1869 
Sylvia Sessions - "married or sealed" blank date for 1869 - unsigned
Patty Bartlett - "sealed to Joseph Smith" signed June 1, 1867 
Sarah Ann Whitney - "married or sealed to Joseph Smith" signed June 19, 1869 
Almera Johnson "I was sealed to the Prophet Joseph Smith" signed in August, 1883 
Eliza Maria Partridge "married or sealed to Joseph Smith" signed July 1, 1869 
Eliza R. Snow "married or sealed to Joseph Smith" signed June 27, 1869 
Fanny Murray Young - Augusta Adams Young states on July 12, 1869 
"she witnessed the marrying or sealing of Fanny Murray to President Joseph Smith"
Rose Vose - "married or sealed to Joseph Smith" signed May 1, 1869 
Emily Dow Partridge - "married or sealed to Joseph Smith" signed May 1, 1869 
Marinda Nancy Johnson - "married or sealed to Joseph Smith" signed May 1, 1869 
Lucy Walker - "married or sealed for time and all eternity to the prophet Joseph Smith" signed Aug 9, 1869 
Rhoda Richards - ""married or sealed to Joseph Smith" signed May 1, 1869 
Desdemona Fullmer - "married or sealed to Joseph Smith" signed June 17, 1869 
Malissa Lott - "married or sealed to Joseph Smith" signed May 20, 1869 

Joseph wasn't trying to marry additional wives for this earthly existence, he was building a kingdom in the next world and was bringing with him those that were sealed or adopted to him.
There is not a lot of information about the practice of adoptions.
Gordon Irving, who worked for the Historical Department of the church, wrote: "No consensus exists with regard to the date when the first adoptions were performed; any conclusions as to whether the ordinance was practiced during Joseph Smith’s lifetime must be viewed as tentative. It is certainly possible, perhaps probable, that Joseph Smith did initiate certain trusted leaders into the adoptionary order as early as 1842." (Brigham Young University Studies, Spring 1974, page 295)
As reported by someone who has talked to Joseph Smith during the last few years in the spirit realm.
Joseph told me about it as we discussed the whole polygamy topic. The part with men, women, and children sealed to him was related to a proxy ceremony where he stood as the Savior, and people were sealed to him to represent coming into the Church of the Firstborn. The account with the “flaming sword” did occur, but it was a dark angel and Joseph cast him out. Much different than the narrative that was shared in church history. PR

The Adversary will visit people as an angel of light. This occurred to Joseph Smith when he was commanded to practice polygamy or he would be destroyed. This second hand account is often used to show that Joseph was reluctant, but obedient. In fact, he cast out the dark spirit in the name of the Lord. . . . A true messenger doesn’t threaten you in the name of God. Their light is pale in comparison to an angel from the Throne. Their words are not uplifting or point to Christ, but often speak to our comfort, pride, and carnal desires.
After Joseph's death, Brigham didn't understand the principles of adoption. Even though he talked about the "law of adoption" in Winter Quarters, he still didn't understand it. Shortly thereafter he had a dream where he conversed with Joseph and the one question he asked Joseph was about adoption. However, you will notice that Joseph didn't answer his question but instead told him to focus on listening to the Spirit.
I then discovered there was a hand rail between us, Joseph stood by a window, and to the southwest of him it was very light. I was in the twilight90 and to the north of me it was very dark; I said, “Brother Joseph, the brethren you know well, better than I do; you raised them up, and brought the Priesthood to us. The brethren have a great anxiety to understand the law of adoption or sealing principles; and if you have a word of counsel for me, I should be glad to receive it.” - Notice that Joseph ignores Brigham's question, but gives him some advice instead.

Joseph stepped toward me, and looking very earnestly, yet pleasantly said, “Tell the people to be humble and faithful, and be sure to keep the spirit of the Lord and it will lead them right. Be careful and not turn away the small voice; it will teach you what to do and where to go; it will yield the fruits of the kingdom. Tell the brethren to keep their hearts open to conviction, so that when the Holy Ghost comes to them, their hearts will be ready to receive it. They can tell the Spirit of the Lord from all other spirits; it will whisper peace and joy to their souls; it will take malice, hatred, strife and all evil from their hearts; and their whole desire will be to do good, bring forth righteousness and build up the kingdom of God. Tell the brethren if they will follow the spirit of Lord they will go right. Be sure to tell the people to keep the Spirit of the Lord; and if they will, they will find themselves just as they were organized by our Father in Heaven before they came into the world. Our Father in Heaven organized the human family, but they are all disorganized and in great confusion. (The Complete Discourses of Brigham Young, Vol. 1, p. 188.)

Eliza R. Snow was one of the women sealed to Joseph. Daniel Lund a RLDS missionary wrote to Eliza and asked about her relationship to Joseph. She replied:
You asked (referring to President Smith), did he authorize or practice spiritual wifery? Were you a spiritual wife? I certainly shall not acknowledge myself of having been a carnal one. (Hales, Joseph Smith’s Polygamy: Vol. 1: History, p. 287)

The Meaning of Words: "Sealing" vs "Marriage"
- From Denver Snuffer's "Joseph's Monogamy"

"I have been chained. I have rattled chains before in a dungeon for the truth's sake. I am innocent of all these charges, and you can bear witness of my innocence, for you know me yourselves."
—Joseph Smith (Words of Joseph Smith , p 376, May 1844 )
Such as there is, the contemporary proof that Joseph was a polygamist is much thinner than is often presented. The contemporary proof that exists could be discounted heavily by the possibility that Joseph was doing something not well-known or understood (sealings) and there was apparently an active element within the church doing something else (spiritual wifery/polygamy) and claiming to do so with Joseph’s approval. The mix of confusion about what Joseph was really doing and schemes to frame him for something he wasn’t doing could possibly prove a toxic waste to Joseph’s true legacy.

Lorenzo Snow, testifying in the Temple Lot case, stated:
[In 1843] I had a private interview with Joseph Smith. In that private interview was the time when he told me he had taken my sister [Eliza R Snow] as a wife. He did not say she was taken as a wife and married to him, he said she was sealed to him, sealed to him for eternity. I was not acquainted with the practice of sealing at that time. I had never heard of it before. I never saw the ceremony of sealing performed in the days of Joseph Smith. I never knew anything about the practice of sealing during the days of Joseph Smith. He didn't tell me anything about it at the time I had this conversation with him. (Abstract Evidence Temple Lot Case U.S.C.C. p. 317)
Snow appears to conflate the idea of sealing with marriage initially but then admits the ceremony was not actually a marriage. He also admits he never knew of or saw anything relating to “sealing” while Joseph lived. Perhaps his poor understanding of what Joseph was really doing was shared by others who later turned the practice of sealing into polygamy. Considering Snow was part of the LDS polygamists, the distinction he draws is significant.

Another example is found in the words of Samuel W. Richards during the Temple Lot case. Richards, the nephew of apostle Willard Richards, was asked what he knew about “the system of plural marriage” in Nauvoo. He stated “I did not hear anything or see anything direct from Joseph Smith himself while I was there in Nauvoo but others who were his clerks and secretaries and such like I had communication from them while I was living there on that subject". He then specifically named his uncle Willard, who was one of Joseph’s secretaries, as having been the one who taught him about plural marriage. He further clarified:

I heard Joseph Smith teach the Quorum of Twelve (perhaps not a full quorum) the principles of sealing. I never heard him teach it publicly, nor to any considerable number of people. He called it the order of celestial marriage,
sealing a man to his wife for eternity. I never heard the principle of sealing taught that a man could be sealed to another man's wife for eternity; I never heard him teach that another man's wife could be sealed to him for eternity. I never heard him teach either publicly or privately that a man could live with two women in this life as his wives at the same time; never heard him teach that.
Samuel Richards gives us another witness that what Joseph was teaching related to “sealing” and was never taught by him in the context of plural wives. We also learn that others, such as Willard Richards, were privately expanding Joseph’s teachings into plural marriage. Like Snow, Samuel Richards was a polygamist in the LDS church so the distinction he makes is significant.

Coincidentally, LDS polygamy scholar Brian Hales relies on a similar statement by Samuel Richards to prove the exact opposite that Joseph did teach polygamy in private. Hales quotes Richards as saying: “I heard him [Joseph Smith] teach it [plural marriage] privately to quite a number at different times.” Hales inserts the words “plural marriage” into the quote whereas Richards is clear in the above testimony that he only heard Joseph teach about “sealings” and that he never heard Joseph speak about plural marriage. This isn’t necessarily a sign of intentionally dishonest scholarship on the part of Hales but it does at least show a scholarly prejudice toward a particular narrative that only serves to cloud this issue further.
Samuel Richards’ account is matched by James Whitehead, Joseph’s private secretary at the time of his martyrdom.

“I heard about the order of the church on the question of sealing...in the early part of the year 1843...or the latter part of 1842. That was the ordinance of sealing as they called it, of husband and wife. They would be married according to the ordinances of the laws of God, not only for time but for eternity as well. That applied only to husband and wife, and a man could not have but one wife, they were not allowed to have more than one wife, but could have one wife and could be sealed to her for this life, as well as for the life to come.” (Abstract Evidence Temple Lot Case U.S.C.C. p. 475)
Joseph’s efforts to teach the idea of sealing appears to have been clouded by others who simultaneously sought to establish plural marriage as an extension of sealings. The distinction shown by the words of Lorenzo Snow, Samuel Richards, and James Whitehead are congruent with what Joseph spoke before the Nauvoo City Council only weeks before his death, saying that polygamy was not to be practiced and that “men in this life must be married in view of eternity”.

If polygamy was a divergence from what Joseph really taught and practiced, it wouldn’t be the only instance. Another clear example of divergence was same-sex sealing. Soon after Joseph’s death, Brigham Young expanded the sealing practice to include sealing living men to other living men. There is no evidence of this practice while Joseph was alive. However, it quickly became a common practice after Joseph’s death before being abandoned altogether by the LDS church in 1894. Given Brigham’s willingness to expand the sealing doctrine so quickly and so dramatically it raises the question of whether plural marriage itself was an innovation. This pattern of divergence that began at the death of Joseph presents significant problems for the commonly accepted polygamy narrative.

Another suspicious trend is the rapid increase in plural marriages after Joseph died in June 1844. In the six months of 1844 following Joseph’s death, Brigham Young increased his plural wives from 4 to 14. Heber C Kimball increased from 1 to 10. In the church at large, there were 56 new plural marriages in 1845. And in 1846, there were an astonishing 255.

One must wonder why Brigham Young would so dramatically and so quickly increase the pace of his own and others’ polygamous unions compared to what was allegedly done during Joseph’s lifetime. In a setting where Joseph was indeed a monogamist who disciplined polygamists and a small group of men was surreptitiously practicing unsanctioned plural marriage until it could be done more openly, these facts make more sense.

The disparity between what Joseph practiced and the divergent behavior that followed after him raises the possibility that Joseph was doing something other than plural marriage. It raises the possibility that even the women who participated in these sealings didn’t fully understand what was occurring and later became convinced they were “married” to Joseph rather than “sealed” to him. These sealings, whether marriages or not, were later used to justify
Brigham’s practice of plural marriage.

Once settled in Utah, Brigham Young led an isolated community, controlled by a hierarchy upon which LDS members were dependent for food, title to real property, access to water, lumber and livestock, and which organized the only government controlling the community for nearly a decade.
Brigham’s “Mormon Reformation” of the 1850s implied potential blood atonement for apostasy. In his zeal to preach as he felt called to do, open dissent became unthinkable. It should not be surprising that such an environment could produce a people unable or unwilling to question the innovation of plural marriage despite Joseph’s consistent efforts to rid the church of it during his lifetime.

The difficulty in unraveling the topic of plural marriage is that so many witnesses require us to decide when they were speaking truthfully and when they were not. Or in other cases, when they knew what they were talking about and when they did not. They uniformly tell the story differently, in versions that are mutually exclusive from one another. In contrast to that conundrum, we have the statements of Joseph Smith, Emma Smith, and Hyrum Smith who are on record in multiple instances denying plural marriage. They never changed their stories. Words matter a great deal. Based on existing evidence, a reasonable observer could determine that the practice of sealing morphed into polygamy despite Joseph’s efforts to prevent it.