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Gospel Topics Chapter 7 Bergera Part 6

Viewpoint on Mormonism / Bill McKeever
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May 14, 2021 4:49 pm

Gospel Topics Chapter 7 Bergera Part 6

Viewpoint on Mormonism / Bill McKeever

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May 14, 2021 4:49 pm

We continue our series by looking at a chapter on polygamy written by Gary Bergera, responding to the Signature book published in 2020 on the Gospel Topics Essays. For more on the Gospel Topics Essays, see

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Looking for a resource written for young people that explains the Mormon religion from a biblical worldview? Mormonism 101 for Teens by Mormonism Research Ministries Eric Johnson addresses basic LDS doctrine while answering important questions such as, Is it okay to date my Mormon friend?

This book will help you better understand what can otherwise be a complicated religion. Mormonism 101 for Teens, available at the Utah Lighthouse Bookstore in Salt Lake City, or purchase online at Viewpoint on Mormonism, the program that examines the teachings of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints from a biblical perspective. Viewpoint on Mormonism is sponsored by Mormonism Research Ministry. Since 1979, Mormonism Research Ministry has been dedicated to equipping the body of Christ with answers regarding the Christian faith in a manner that expresses gentleness and respect. And now, your host for today's Viewpoint on Mormonism.

Hoping you're having a very pleasant Friday. Welcome to this edition of Viewpoint on Mormonism. I'm your host, Bill McKeever, founder and director of Mormonism Research Ministry, and with me today is Eric Johnson, my colleague at MRM. Today we wrap up our look at Chapter 7, titled Through a Glass Darkly, Joseph Smith and Plural Marriage, a chapter written by Gary James Berger in the book The LDS Gospel Topics Series, A Scholarly Engagement. Now, I know we've taken some extra time to look at this chapter, but I think the subject matter is very important.

We are also going to be looking at two more chapters within this book that deal with the subject of plural marriage. But before we close out today, Mr. Berger has some complaints about this particular essay, and this is what he says on page 208. Finally, the essay does not reference some of the most important scholarship on the history of Mormon polygamy. Frankly, I find it difficult to read this omission as anything other than deliberate, given that the essay refers explicitly to, quote, the contributions of scholars to the historical content presented in this article, end quote. He gives a number of examples of authors and their books that he feels should have been included as well. He may have a point, and the reason I say that is because he specifically laments the omission of George Smith's book, which was titled Nauvoo Polygamy, but we called it Celestial Marriage. His reason being that Smith was the first scholar to calculate the number of men and women involved in plural marriage by the time the church reached the Salt Lake Valley in mid-1847. Instead, Mr. Berger says, the essay at note 20 ignores Smith's pioneering study and instead cites the later author's work to document the number.

He goes on to say that the essay most frequently cites researcher Brian C. Hales, who aided in the preparation of the essay and whose own work is referenced eight times. But he goes on to say that his concern is not so much with Hales' work, however much one may agree or disagree with his interpretations, as it is with the essay's tethering itself so tightly to the arguments and conclusions of only one scholar when the insightful work of other scholars is just as, if not more, persuasive. He goes on and says the argument that Joseph Smith was a reluctant polygamist downplays Smith's exuberant enjoyment of life and charismatic allure.

He was, after all, 35 years old in 1841. It imposes on him a brand of mortality that was foreign to him and ignores the ramifications of his own and others' perception of him as heaven's lawgiver. That which is wrong under one circumstance may be and often is right under another, Smith reportedly taught of plural marriage, and elsewhere elaborated that there are many things in the Bible which do not, as they now stand, accord with the revelation of the Holy Ghost to me. One thing that Mr. Berger does, he does tend to jump back and forth with his thoughts.

He'll say something and then he'll address it again. And this issue that he raises on page 209 that you just read, Eric, has to do with the argument that has been often raised by many Latter-day Saints that Joseph Smith's involvement in plural marriage had nothing to do with sexual lust. I think Mr. Berger has a problem with that. I mean, as he says here, he was 35 years old in 1841, and this idea, as he says, imposes on Smith a brand of morality that was foreign to him and ignores the ramifications of his own and others' perception of him as heaven's lawgiver.

And then out of the blue, he gives that quote, that which is wrong under one circumstance may be and often is right under another. That is a reference to a statement that Joseph Smith made in a letter to Nancy Rigdon, who was the daughter of Sidney Rigdon. Nancy Rigdon was approached by Joseph Smith to be a plural wife, and I think Joseph Smith naturally assumed that this 19-year-old girl was going to do whatever he told her to do, and she basically told him to go take a flying leap.

I'm sure that surprised him. Let me read you this story that's found in the book Sidney Rigdon, A Portrait of Religious Excess. The story is found on page 295. It goes on to say, Incredulous, the feisty Nancy countered that if she ever got married, she would marry a single man or none at all. Grabbing her bonnet, she ordered the door opened or she would raise the neighbors.

She then stormed out of the Hyde-Richards residence. Now, this would be a couple that were members of the church, pretty influential at that time. Van Wagner goes on to say that Wilford Woodruff, that's the same Wilford Woodruff who had become the fourth president of the church, President Rigdon, Sidney Rigdon, took as his text, When we see a principle that makes us the most happy, if we will cultivate that principle and practice it ourselves, it will render others happy. Van Wagner goes on to say, The message cut to the chase, and this is what the letter said by Smith, Does it not surprise you that an individual like Joseph Smith would use this type of manipulation tactic on a young girl to get what he wants? This is why I think Berger is absolutely correct. You cannot rule out any of Joseph Smith's sexual desires for these girls and these other plural wives.

You just can't do that. And I think it's turning a blind eye to the circumstances for any Latter-day Saint who chooses to do that. When he says that which is wrong under one circumstance may be and often is right under another, what's he basically admitting?

He's basically admitting something's wrong here, and you better get over it. I think that, as Christians, we might say that could be partially true, Bill, because there's what's called the law of the higher good. And this idea, for instance, with Rahab, the prostitute who was living in Jericho. So Rahab allowed spies to come into Jericho, and then when she was asked about it, she lied.

And she's commended in Hebrews 11, the Hall of Faith. Some would say, well, I guess lying is okay. Well, this is a different circumstance here completely, because what Joseph Smith is doing is committing adultery, and adultery is wrong in all shapes and forms. And I don't think there's any justification.

It's not one of those arguments like the law of the higher good where you could possibly make a justification for a lie. Adultery is adultery. Berger goes on on page 210 to say, Smith may have been a man possessed of intense spirituality and craving for contact with the divine, but he was also a man of singular intellect, passion and appetite. Excitement powered his existence. Friendship and family formed the bedrock of his idealized celestial social order. Love and sex, or as he termed reproduction, quote unquote, occupied an integral place in his plural marriage teaching. That same sociality, which exists among us here, Smith taught, will exist among us there, that is, in heaven, only it will be coupled with eternal joy, which glory we do not now enjoy, citing Doctrine and Covenants, section 130, verse 2.

His 1843 revelation stated explicitly that plural wives are given unto him, that is, the husband, to multiply and replenish the earth, citing Doctrine and Covenants, section 132, verse 63. But then, Berger offers some advice, because remember, he does have some problems with this essay, and here at the end of his chapter, he offers what he calls his unsolicited advice to the author or authors of the Gospel Topics essay on Joseph Smith and LDS plural marriage. He writes, Do not be afraid to acknowledge the problematic nature of the primary sources, especially when memory-dependent reminiscence formed the foundation of your work. Be skeptical of the details such sources contain, including precise dates, direct and summarized quotations attributed to Smith and to others, interpretations of doctrines that cannot be supported by contemporary documents, recitals of events that sound too good and or too convenient to be true, especially when they cannot be independently corroborated. Be aware of your own presentist and other biases. If you cannot set them aside, admit them to readers.

Be cautious. Avoid making definitive-sounding conclusions. Invite pre-publication comment from a variety of scholars, not simply those who share your own inclinations.

And I think most people would probably say that that's pretty good advice for just about everything, and we are all prone to fall short of some of those categories. Well, Bill, we've talked about this before, but we're recommending that somebody who's interested in what we've been talking about these past weeks get the book, the LDS Gospel Topics series, and I invite you not only to read that, but to read the original Gospel Topics essays that are located on the Church website, because these are very important. And I think as Christians we can use these as evangelistic tools, because I think there are many Latter-day Saints who do not like what the Church has written that they didn't know about before 2014. And if you want to find those essays, it's probably a lot faster to go to, because on our homepage, if you scroll down, you'll see a box, and that will take you directly to the Gospel Topics essays.

Thank you for listening. If you would like more information regarding Mormonism Research Ministry, we encourage you to visit our website at, where you can request our free newsletter, Mormonism Researched. We hope you will join us again as we look at another viewpoint on Mormonism. In their own words, a collection of Mormon quotations compiled by Mormonism Research Ministry's Bill McKeever is a valuable resource when wanting to know what Mormon leaders have said on a given topic. Pick up your copy at the Utah Lighthouse Bookstore or
Whisper: medium.en / 2023-11-18 15:57:17 / 2023-11-18 16:02:08 / 5

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