Opinion » Bill Cope

Cope: 40 Wives

Mr. & Mrs. Smith. & Mrs. Smith. & Mrs. Smith. & Mrs. Smith...

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I want to commend the LDS Church for admitting Joseph Smith engaged in plural marriage, and also to make the point that just because the founder of the Latter-Day Saints thought he had to have enough women on tap to start a roller derby league does not mean we have free rein to snicker at modern Mormons for the lurid mating habits of their forefathers. I live next to two of the finest families I have ever had the pleasure to call neighbors--both LDS--and neither one of them has more wives in the household than you'd expect. So whatever Joseph Smith did 180 years ago has no reflection on our present-day Mormon friends. Period!

One little thing, though...

Wouldn't three or four wives have been plenty? Seriously, 40 wives starts to sound less like polygamy and more like ranching.

Another thing. How on Earth would one man handle 40 wives, anyway? You know, in the in-the-sack sense. Or did he take some for rutting purposes, some for showing off (perhaps because some ostentatious neighborhood sheik was always bragging about his 39 wives), and one or two because they made a lasagna that would curl a fella's toes?

And speaking of dinner, how's a guy supposed to keep that many mouths fed, not to mention the number of little mouths that were bound to result from having 40 wives? I can't imagine that even the best jobs back then would bring in enough to feed, clothe and house 40 wives, plus spawn. Besides, from what I know of Joe Smith, he didn't stay put in one place long enough to build much of a career. In fact, he was moving so often, you have to wonder how he managed to woo even one wife, let alone 40.

Ah, but he didn't need anything as mundane as a job, did he?... being a religious leader and all. Religious leaders seem to have ways to get other people to pay for their stuff. That's as true for popes and bishops as it was for Jim Jones down in Guyana or David Koresh down in Waco. Like, if Jerry Falwell wanted a new Cadillac, or Joel Osteen wants a new mega-church, they simply badger the flock to give God a raise.

What probably happened was Smith had to go out and dig up those golden tablets—the rough draft for the Book of Mormon, as I understand it—before he could convince so many women to marry him, right? After all, how else would a guy get 40 wives to play along until after he cooks up a religion that allows him to have 40 wives? Talk about putting the cart before the horse, huh? And maybe that's what he was after all along, ya' think? The 40 wives? And those golden tablets were just, like, his pick-up line? And maybe modern-day Mormons should reexamine the whole damn...

No! Darnit! I said I wasn't going to do that. Just because there's an argument to be made that the LDS church was founded by a man who today would be considered a serial sexual predator does in no way reflect on that religious institution and the people who adhere to its teachings.

Besides, who's to say every church doesn't have its share of sexual predators? Sometimes it seem like if it weren't for Catholic priests being accused of abuse, we'd forget there is a Catholic Church. And don't you have to wonder if those preachers who still have their own teevee shows are just the ones who haven't been caught yet?

So I say we forget about those 40 wives. I mean it. Mormons gave up that polygamy stuff more than a century ago—most of them, at any rate—and there is no lingering indication that mainstream Mormonism is rooted in a practice that would allow girls as young as 13 to be fair game for pedophiles.

One little thing, though...

If you pay much attention to LDS history, as the LDS church tells it, old Joe (who wasn't all that old, really; he was 39 when he died, so he actually had fewer years under his belt than wives) was killed by enemies of the church he'd founded—that an angry mob slew him for spreading the golden tablets gospel.

Well, there's no doubt about one thing. Joseph Smith was indeed slewed. And the mob that slewed him surely did seem to be angry. They put enough lead in him to line a radiology lab.

But as a general rule, Americans, even back then, didn't make a practice of dragging leaders of opposing religions out and killing them. And it's not because Americans were so ecumenically minded that they welcomed different faiths with open arms. Ask a 19th century Southern Baptist what he thought of a Boston Catholic, or a Shaker what he thought of an Episcopalian, or a Methodist what he thought of a Unitarian. No, these people were all competing for the same collection plate, but they weren't blowing the bejesus out of anyone who claimed to have a different slant on faith.

So do you suppose... just maybe... they slewed old Joe not for what he was preaching, but for who he was porking? Do you suppose maybe he'd talked one too many impressionable daughter or already-married woman into joining his herd? And do you suppose that if he hadn't been slewed—that if he'd lived a normal lifespan, un-martyred—he might today be considered as less a prophet and more one of those creepy pervs who couldn't stop chasing tail?