Episode #10 — Joseph Smith’s Polygamy

LDS Liberty
LDS Liberty
Episode #10 -- Joseph Smith's Polygamy

The episode where Ben and Shiloh have Brian and Laura Hales from JosephSmithsPolygamy.org on to discuss the early theology, doctrine, practice, and controversies surrounding the practice of plural marriage during the early days of the Church. Plural marriage is an incredibly complex piece of Church history that many members both intentionally and unintentionally shun away from, don’t feel confident in their knowledge of, or feel uncomfortable talking about. In this episode, we begin by talking with Brian and Laura why this topic is so emotional and controversial, as the Hales help us understand some of the nuances and history that help us make sense of this early practice.

As stated in this episode, the Hales have provided us a brief bio of their background into the early practice of plural marriage, and they have also offered suggestions for further reading for those who would be interested in learning more. If time is limited, we highly suggest taking a look at the Hales’ website — JosephSmithsPolygamy.org — for reading materials and for audio articles that you can listen to while at home or in the car. The audiocasts are fantastic and very concise, and they are definitely worth your time to check out.


Brian and Laura Harris Hales are both active members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. They have written and spoken widely on the early practice of polygamy.

Brian C. Hales is the author of seven books dealing with Mormon polygamy—most notably the three-volume, Joseph Smith’s Polygamy: History and Theology (Greg Kofford Books, 2013). He has presented at numerous meetings and symposia and published articles in the Journal of Mormon HistoryMormon Historical StudiesDialogue, as well as contributing chapters to The Persistence of Polygamy series.

He served a mission to Venezuela for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and sang with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir for fourteen years. He is currently president of the John Whitmer Historical Association.

Brian works as an anesthesiologist and has served as the president of both the Utah Medical Association and the Medical Staff at the Davis Hospital and Medical Center in Layton, Utah.

He has an almost insatiable appetite for both learning and movie theater popcorn. He is also an avid runner and enjoys running half-marathons with his four children and their spouses.

Laura Harris Hales earned a BA in international studies from BYU and an MA in professional writing from New England College. Currently she is the copy editor of Mormon Historical Studies. In 2015, Laura and Brian co-authored Joseph Smith’s Polygamy: Toward a Better Understanding (Kofford Books, 2015).

Recently she compiled an anthology addressing seventeen controversial topics regarding LDS history and doctrine. Chapters are written by leading LDS scholars and are directed toward members of the LDS Church curious about controversial issues (Laura Harris Hales, ed., A Reason for Faith: Navigation LDS Doctrine and History (Provo, UT: Religious Studies Center; Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 2016).

Further Reading

Short biography of Ruth Vose Sayers (eternity-only plural wife of Joseph Smith)

A Woman’s View: Helen Mar Whitney’s Reminiscences of Early Church History (written by Helen Mar Kimball, youngest plural wife of Joseph Smith)

Autobiography of Mary E. Lightner (sealed for eternity to Joseph Smith)

John C. Bennett’s Spiritual Wifery

MormonPolygamyDocuments.org (free database of primary documents)


  1. I read The Law of Adoption from BYU Studies and it explained a lot for me. To understand that Joseph was given a commandment but not necessarily how to implement that commandment, in most of the revelations he was given, gives me more understanding about how the Lord works in my life. On this topic I believe that the revelation that we could be sealed to God as individuals and families explains more to me than trying to explain other motives. These were honorable men and women who loved God and having eternity opened up to their understanding had to have been a wonderful doctrine. I am 70 years old and nothing that the critics have “revealed” has been new information to me. My mother studied church history and I grew up knowing most of the things that people are now finding so problematic. Her teaching was always that we would understand better in the eternities. Thanks mom for that. Thank you for this broadcast today.

  2. As you suggested, I checked out josephsmithspolgamy.org to include the section titled “Does Exaltation Require Polygamy” and listened the audio that argues that the doctrine says eternal marriage and not polygamy is required for exaltation. And yet you do not address any of the previous prophets claims to the importance of polygamy as found in the Journal of Discourses (excerpts below). This includes, but is not limited to the following:
    Vol 11, page 211: The only Men who become Gods, even sons of God, are those who enter into polygamy. Brigham Young
    Vol 11, page 211: Those who exercise influence against it (polygamy) will be damned. Heber C. Kimball
    Vol 25, page 21: I bear solemn testimony that plural marriage is as true as any principle revealed from Heaven. John Teasdale
    Vol 17, page 224-225: ..If you oppose it (polygamy)and if you do not become as dark as midnight there is no truth to Mormonism. Orson Pratt

    1. Of all the references you mention, the only one that appears to require a person to have multiple wives is the first one by Brigham Young (which has the wrong reference by the way – the quote is from discourse 41, not 32 per your page number). If you read the entire paragraph from that discourse, it seems very clear that Brigham Young is saying that you must accept polygamy as a true principle, not that you have to actually have multiple wives. This only stands to reason since it is impossable for all men to have multiple wives. There are not enough women for that to be possible. So for it to be a requirement our Heavenly Father would be excluding some from eternal life simply because he ran out of women!

  3. While I hope you don’t stray from the main focus of this site too often on your podcast, this was a great episode. I am now listening to the guest’s podcast too.

  4. Thank you for your response since no one really wants to discuss it when I bring it up. But to address you points – First of all, unless I’m missing something, I do not refer to a discourse 32 as you refer to. Besides if you’re referring to volumes, there are only 26. Second, I beg to differ, but all the references I highlight do in fact refer to the topic and teaching of polygamy (check the verses before and after the primary ones I listed). And third, you actually miss the point of my reply, which is, the early prophets preached profusely of the IMPORTANCE of polygamy. Whether you participate in it or not is irrevelant. The fact is, you have to accept it as being an intregal part of the Gospel. In fact, you support this argument by stating “Brigham is saying that you must accept polygamy as a true principle…” Course this discussion would probably go even longer if the act of polyandry, which Joseph Smith practised was tied into the topic of plural marriage and the gospel.

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