Mormonism Blog
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December 1, 2019, 6:52 AM

Homosexuality and the Historical Joseph

Is there evidence for homosexuality in either the life or teachings of Joseph Smith? There are rumors out there, but I remain unconvinced by the evidence. That’s why I did not even include the subject when I wrote my recent book on Jesus and Joseph. Scholars have looked under every rock for traces of a gay or at least gay-friendly Joseph. What few traces have been identified do not rise to the level that I consider historical bedrock. By examining here what few traces have been cited as evidence, I hope to prove that such bits and pieces prove nothing.

The top researcher on this subject is D. Michael Quinn, former BYU professor of history, author of Same-Sex Dynamics Among Nineteenth-Century Americans: A Mormon Example. One of Quinn’s sources is Hyrum and Helen Andrus’ book They Knew the Prophet, a collection of memories from hard-to-find diaries and interviews with early followers of Joseph.

Joseph taught nothing specific about homosexuality, either approval or condemnation, although there is evidence that one of the sins for which John Bennett was excommunicated was bisexual behavior. In the July 27, 1842 edition of a local Mormon newspaper called The Wasp, Joseph’s brother William is quoted as follows: “Gen. [Joseph] Smith was a great philanthropist [in the eyes of Bennett] as long as Bennett could practice adultery, fornication, and – we were going to say (Buggery,) without being exposed.”

The fact that Joseph temporarily looks the other way on Bennett’s offenses does not imply that he approves of any of these named behaviors. Nor does the fact that Joseph blames Sodom’s destruction on its inhospitality (to use Ezekiel 16:49-50’s language, as many liberal interpreters do today) does not mean that he rejects the clear picture of why Sodom was destroyed that we find in Genesis 19.

There are a few small shreds of evidence worthy of note. One is from William Clayton’s diary entry for June 23, 1843, where Clayton remembers how Joseph jokingly apologizes to the wife of his personal secretary, Robert Thompson, for taking up so much of his time: “Sister Thompson, you must not feel bad towards me for keeping your husband away from you so much, for I am married to him.” Thompson’s wife agreed that “they truly love each other with fervent brotherly affection.” After Thompson died in 1841, Joseph gave an unusual explanation to his next secretary during a discussion of sexual misconduct: “He said [Robert B.] Thompson professed great friendship for him but he gave away to temptation and he had to die.” (Quinn, 136) Whatever was behind that statement, I see no reason to take Joseph seriously here where he claims to be “married” to Thompson.

Another piece of data comes from a sermon on April 16, 1843, where Joseph says, “It is pleasing for friends to lie down together locked in the arms of love, to sleep, and [awake] locked in each other’s embrace and renew their conversation.” The five pages of surrounding context, however, are all about the circumstances of death and future resurrection, and are part of an extended quote by Joseph from a letter to a newspaper written by a third party, given at a funeral. (See the transcript of the sermon in Faulring, An American Prophet’s Record, 366.) I don’t buy this supposed piece of evidence at all.

William Taylor, a younger brother of LDS president John Taylor, describes an extended visit by Joseph to his family in 1842, when Taylor was 19 years old: “I have never known the same joy and satisfaction in the companionship of any other person, man or woman, that I felt with him [Joseph Smith], the man who had conversed with the Almighty… Sometimes in our return home in the evening after we had been tramping around in the woods, he [Joseph Smith] would call out: ‘Here, mother, come David and Jonathan.’” (Quoted in Andrus, 161)

There are also several anecdotes such as in 1826, when Joseph at age 20 boarded with the Knight family, whose teenage son later writes: “Joseph and I worked together and slept together” (quoted in William Hartley, They Are My Friends, 18-19), or the claim of Dan Jones that on the night before Joseph’s death at Carthage, Joseph “lay himself by my side in close embrace.” (Letter to Thomas Bullock, January 20, 1855, in BYU Studies, volume 24) Such anecdotes are misleading: such sleeping arrangements were overwhelming common in the 1800’s, with nothing sexual about them.

John Hess writes that when he was 14, Joseph “used to take me up on his knee and caress me as he would a little child… I became very much attached to him, and learned to love him more dearly than any other person I ever met, my father and mother not excepted.” (Quoted in The Juvenile Instructor, volume 26, 202) Finally, Joseph's last words to George Rosecrans as he departs to soon die in jail: “If I never see you again, or if I never come back, remember that I love you.” (Quoted in Andrus, 182)

That’s the whole kitchen sink on Joseph and homosexuality. No, we must be highly skeptical of the claims that Joseph Smith was bisexual or gay-friendly. Yes, he swerved from the Biblical teaching on marriage in his plunge into plural marriage, but he gives no false teaching or immoral example on same-sex intimacy.

Today’s LDS church teaching on homosexuality, in my opinion, is faithful to the Biblical sexual ethic (see my Patheos post "What Does Jesus Say About Homosexual Behavior?"). They’ve also paid a hideous price for the stand they are taking. Even though we have different gospels, we should consider the LDS our cobelligerents in this struggle for moral truth.

I also think we must be wary in our approach to those who are leaving the LDS church because of its moral stand, on a subject where we in historic Christianity happens to agree with the LDS position. I’d hate to see the LDS surrender to falsehood on this issue, after they have paid such a steep price defending the truth. (My thoughts on the LDS policies on same-sex marriage may be found in a separate post.) We do no good if we encourage those who are leaving the LDS faith who are merely exchanging one error for another.

I admire the young LDS man in Jana Riess’s The Next Mormons who rejected the label “gay,” preferring the identity “same-sex attracted,” who looked forward to someday having the wife and children required for him to be exalted to godhood, and who looked to other gay men who were married to women as his example. Better for him, however, to have a Savior who does not require a spouse and children for salvation, a Savior whose undeserved love meets the needs of our hearts more completely than any human desire ever can.

We may disagree on whether polygamy was ever God’s will, but now we and today’s LDS must defend the Biblical sexual ethic together. For more resources on the Biblical sexual ethic, see my "Ham Sandwiches and Gay Sex", "Same-Sex Marriage in Biblical Times", and "God's Sex Mandate: The Two Shall Become One Flesh".

November 28, 2019, 7:00 PM

Thoughts on the LDS Gay Policy Revision

It is interesting to see the LDS church’s recent revision of its policies on same-sex marriage and on baptism of children of same-sex couples. (See…/…/04/04/lds-church-dumps-its/.) Because the LDS church does not baptize any child until age 8, it only made sense to remove the ban on baptizing children of such couples, since all responsibilities connected to LDS baptism appear to fall entirely on the child. According to the writer of this article, blessings can be done on younger children on the same basis that they can apparently be done even for the children of non-Mormons, who will then be followed up until they are old enough to be baptized. One can only wonder what they would have done if they had practiced infant baptism, since the faith of the parents would then become an issue, as it is for us.
As for same-sex marriage, the decision was to no longer treat them as “apostate,” which would call for disciplinary action, i.e. excommunication. Homosexual behavior remains sin according to the LDS church, but it is to be treated the same as heterosexual immorality. Adultery and fornication have often been disciplined by excommunication in the past, but apparently is being handled less drastically at the moment.
I am glad to see that the LDS church is remaining firm on its moral convictions regarding the law of chastity (as they call it). In recent years, they have paid a hideous price for their stand, which is a stand many of us agree with. The central Biblical ethic proclaimed by Genesis, Jesus, and Paul, “The two [a man and a woman] shall become one flesh,” is worth defending.
Joseph Smith appears to have said nothing specific about homosexual practice, although there have been strained attempts to find homoeroticism in Joseph, such as the sound bite where he calls a male personal secretary of his at Nauvoo his “wife” because they spent so much time together. I would say, don’t believe it.  I will say more about his in my next post.
If I were advising the LDS leaders, however, I would encourage them not to invoke “revelation” as the basis for their decisions. In his book Thus Saith the Lord, Duane Crowther makes an important distinction between “policy” and divine revelation. The current prophet, Russell Nelson, make the mistake of identifying the previous policy as based on revelation made by God to the previous prophet. Don’t let your policies rise to the level of revelation. The God of the Biblical apostles and prophets is not a human being, that he should change his mind.

November 26, 2019, 3:41 PM

What's Different About Our Worship?

Last week I visited over 120 Protestant church websites in Utah, southern Idaho, and western Wyoming. I was impressed when I saw who God has called to serve in LDS territory, and what they are doing.

One thing I noticed on those websites is how many of them included information about “what to expect” when visitors visit their church. Most Latter-day Saints need to be warned: our worship will be different! This will be true, no matter what kind of historic Christian church they visit: Catholic, Orthodox, or the many brands of Protestant. Chances are, the LDS visitor will be over-dressed, and will encounter lively praise and prayer, and music that they have never associated with “church.” Also, instead of an assortment of talks by congregation members, they will hear one sermon preached by someone who is trained in theology and (hopefully!) Biblical languages. Finally, there is an offering. (LDS are accustomed to sending their checks straight to their local ward office.)

As I’ve been sitting in church lately, I’ve tried to visualize what our churches must look like through LDS eyes. My tradition (Presbyterian) emphasizes corporate confession of sin at any early point in our worship. When I attend our neighborhood Methodist megachurch, they instead have a strong tradition of inviting people to come forward to the altar for prayer. Some churches have formal liturgical readings. Lutherans have lots of chanted musical responses. Many of us get very conversational with God in our style of prayer.

One place we really shine is in our music. Ours is wonderfully creative and diverse. While yes, we do have a few clunkers, we have all the great hymns, both ancient and modern. We have Handel’s “Messiah.” We have “How Great Thou Art.” We have “In Christ Alone.” We have “Shine, Jesus, Shine!” At Christmas, we have too many carols to do them all between Thanksgiving and Epiphany. LDS meetings borrow most of the hymns they sing from us. In their modern musical productions, they have shown themselves capable of very entertaining music, but their hymnody seems to be frozen in the 1840’s.

LDS folks tend not to expect their spiritual experiences in their Sunday sacrament meeting. For that, they go to their temples, and even there, they don’t get music. What they get when they arrive in the Celestial Room is a setting for silent meditation. This is where they go for what we expect to get every Sunday. Of course, to go there, they need to be worthy enough to hold a temple recommend (a pass from their local bishop).

One noticeable difference is in their “Sacrament,” where water is used instead of wine or juice. What a visual of the blood of Christ to someone who has been accustomed to drinking water! The words in the LDS sacrament are prescribed verbatim in their Doctrine and Covenants scripture, and are recited by rote by the young teenagers who preside and distribute the elements. What I have seen would make even the most low-church Baptist communion sound passionately hard-line Lutheran by comparison.

Logic would indicate that LDS folks have divided instincts on worship. Because they are gods in embryo, and because both Heavenly Father and Jesus are just further up the exaltation ladder than we are, it appears to me (as someone who has never been LDS) that there would be less reason for us to worship them. But in practice, LDS responses to God, while more subdued, look similar to ours, like atheists who deny the existence of a higher power but who live like they are answerable to Someone. We want to encourage that instinct, with the goal of pointing them to the infinite transcendent God who is not an exalted man, but whose grace and power truly blows us away.

Our worship is a testimony, to the LDS, and to anyone who does not share our evangelical faith: “God is truly among you!” (1 Corinthians 14:25) I am surprised how often people ask me to lead in prayer, especially liberal Protestants who do not exactly share my belief, but who seem to resonate with my enthusiastic conversational approach to God. As a pastor, when I lead worship, my task is to both point people to God, and to model how to praise God by example.

May our worship inspire the LDS and all who visit our churches to exclaim: “God is truly among you!”

November 9, 2019, 7:00 AM

LDS Laborers Not Worthy of Hire?

A popular LDS tract that lists “17 Points of the True Church of Jesus Christ” includes a claim that the true Church must have “no paid ministry.” As long as I have known them, the LDS have prided themselves on this principle. So imagine my surprise when I learned that the LDS were commanded in their scriptures to financially support not only Joseph Smith, but future church leaders as well, all the way down to the local rank and file.

To support their argument that church leaders should not be paid, today's LDS cite Acts 20:33-34, where Paul reminds the Ephesians that “I worked with my own hands to support myself” while he was serving there, and John 10:11-13, where Jesus criticizes the hired hand who does not truly care for the sheep. They also cite 1 Peter 5:2, where Peter exhorts elders to care for their people “not for shameful gain.”

Today's LDS can also cite Mosiah 27:5 from their Book of Mormon: “Yea, and all their priests and teachers should labor with their own hands for their support, in all cases save it were in sickness, or in much want.” Similarly, 2 Nephi 26:31 states, “But the laborer in Zion shall labor for Zion; for if they labor for money, they shall perish.”

(For more of the LDS case for a non-paid ministry, see

The Book of Mormon taps into a popular resentment for paid clergy in the frontier America in which it was published. But as Joseph Smith records further revelations in his Doctrine and Covenants, we find passages that defend his right, and the right of later church leaders, to financial support. Joseph says he is told in July 1830, “And thou shalt take no purse nor scrip, neither staves, neither two coats, for the church shall give unto thee in the very hour what thou needest for food and for raiment, and for shoes and for money, and for scrip.” (D&C 24:18)

The following year, in Kirtland OH, Doctrine and Covenants 42:71-73 makes it clear that it is not just Joseph Smith, but also local church leaders who deserve financial support: “And the elders or high priests who are appointed to assist the bishop as counselors in all things, are to have their families supported out of the property which is consecrated to the bishop…Or they are to receive a just remuneration for all their services… And the bishop, also, shall receive his support, or a just remuneration for all his services in the church.”

Several more times in 1831, the same theme is repeated. God reportedly says concerning Joseph, “if ye desire the mysteries of the kingdom, provide him food and raiment, and whatsoever thing he needeth to accomplish the work wherewith I have commanded him.” (D&C 43:12) “He who is appointed to administer spiritual things, the same is worthy of his hire, even as those who are appointed to a stewardship to administer in temporal things…” (D&C 70:12) Finally, “Behold, I say unto you, that it is the duty of the church to assist in supporting the families of those, and also to support the families of those who are called and must needs be sent unto the world to proclaim the gospel unto the world.” (D&C 75:24)

Jesus says of those who labor for the sake of the Gospel, “The laborer is worthy of his hire.” (Luke 10:7) Paul quotes Jesus’ teaching verbatim in 1 Timothy 5:18, and echoes it again in Galatians 6:6: “Let the one who is taught the word share all good things with the one who teaches.” Paul also writes, “Let the elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honor (the word timÄ“ also means “price” or “compensation”), especially those who labor in preaching and teaching.” (1 Timothy 5:17)

While Paul declares in 1 Corinthians 9:14, “the Lord appointed that those who proclaim the Gospel are to get their living from the Gospel” (see 9:3-18 for the entire context that backs up this reading of the Greek), Paul deliberately chooses to forego that right, so that he is beholden to no one but God. No one can say that Paul preaches for the same reason as Cher’s huckster father does in her song “Gypsies, Tramps, and Thieves,” for whom “preach a little Gospel” was just as good as to “sell a couple bottles of Doctor Good.”

While I sharply disagree with their claim that God decrees that church leadership must be unpaid, I greatly admire the LDS for the extent to which they practice what they profess. When I read the LDS romance novel The Bishop’s Bride: The Honeymoon’s Over (yes, I have read LDS romance novels!), I was impressed by the extremely busy life of an LDS bishop portrayed in that book. All of their church labor must be squeezed into evenings and weekends!

One can hardly devote 45-50 hours per week to such a calling and stay sane. Nor would that bishop be able to prepare a full-length sermon every week comparable to a sermon preached by a Christian pastor. Much of what a pastor might do, has to be delegated to an army of ward members, including delivery of Sunday talks, which no doubt has an advantageous effect on the average LDS believer.

But there is still a lot of labor for the LDS church that is paid. Don’t tell me that none of the laborers in their 26-story office building in Salt Lake is paid. Full-time educators are paid. (Those who teach religion at BYU even have theological training.) All of the Apostles, the First Quorum of Seventy, and regional fulltime Mission Presidents have living allowances. (See And although missionaries normally pay for their own two-year missions, local wards have been known to pass the hat for young people who otherwise would not be able to afford to go on a mission.)

Now, the job description of a Christian pastor includes not only the administration and guidance done by an LDS bishop, but also the work of a paid LDS educator, including weekly preparation of one or more competent Biblical sermons averaging 20-30 minutes, requiring the expertise of a BYU religion professor. For this work, most Christian pastors are paid less than LDS bishops are paid for their non-church careers.

Certainly Christian churches can learn and benefit from the LDS model. And certainly LDS wards might benefit if they had local bishops who were professionally trained and who could devote full time to their duties. God is already unleashing Christian laypeople. Paid fulltime LDS bishops would require the audacity of a President Nelson to pull off. (Let’s see what he has up his sleeve at the next General Conference…)

I categorically reject the claim that a completely unpaid ministry is a requirement of the true Church. Jesus flatly rejects the claim; Paul clearly concurs. Not even Joseph Smith was required to operate this way, except when compelled by economic realities. As the apostle Paul acknowledges, to serve God without pay gives us admirable “bragging rights.” But our willingness to value the fulltime labor of Christian leaders is clearly what Jesus intends.

September 13, 2019, 5:00 PM

Joseph Smith as a Student of Hebrew

The gift store at Joseph Smith’s Kirtland, Ohio temple sells reproduced copies of a small guide to the Hebrew language produced just for Joseph’s class of leaders at Kirtland who signed up to learn Hebrew. The instructor was Joshua Seixas, a Portuguese Jew who may have secretly converted to Christianity. Seixas taught Joseph’s class for several months, and Joseph claims that Seixas bragged on them as being an exceptionally capable class. But then Seixas went away on a vacation break and never returned, leaving his class unable to explain his abrupt departure.

The guide was produced because copies of Seixas’ full-length Hebrew grammar were in short supply. It is 22 pages of text, plus the entirety of Genesis 1 reprinted for the class to practice on. Pronunciation is different from the modern Ashkenazi method chiefly in the fact that Seixas pronounces the letter ‘ayin, which is silent in modern Hebrew. Seixas pronounces it “gn,” which helps explain Joseph’s use of two puzzling terms in his scripture Pearl of Great Price. One is gnolam, which turns out to be simply the word ‘olam or “eternal.” The other is Joseph’s raukeeyang, which is the way he was taught to pronounce raqi‘a or “firmament.”

(I happen to agree with Seixas that ‘ayin should be pronounced as a g-like guttural, as it is in Arabic. The Greek New Testament is proof; it often uses a g to spell names that have an ‘ayin in them. Otherwise, we would be calling Sodom’s twin city “Omorrah.”)

Seixas’ guide for Joseph’s Hebrew class quickly jumps from a few basics into complicated stuff. Unless we take the term “Supplement” in the title to mean that most of what Seixas is teaching is in the book and not in this brief guide, or that most of what he taught is not in either text, it is difficult to see how Joseph or his classmates were able to get past the first five pages of lesson material.

Joseph made some progress in simple Hebrew, which enables him to use false but plausible linguistic arguments in his re-translation of Genesis 1. When he plays deceptively with the text, at least he knows how to do so. When he attempts to translate Egyptian, as he does in the Book of Abraham and his Egyptian Alphabet and Grammar (see, it is clear that he doesn’t have the foggiest idea what he is doing.

Although he possessed a Greek New Testament, Joseph never seems to have attempted to learn Greek. However, in his diary from the Nauvoo period, he mentions spending quite a bit of time learning German, which he would employ along with Hebrew in his Nauvoo-era sermons. He seems to have believed that the German Bible could correct the English version.

Why would Joseph bother to try learning Hebrew, when he could just claim divine revelation, as he does to produce his Inspired Version of the Bible? In his Inspired Version, Joseph was able to make claims, not so much about faulty translation as about faulty manuscripts that left out “plain and precious” material that God revealed to him to be present in the original manuscripts, even though he had no hard evidence to which he could point to support his claims.

Joseph was not content, however, to rest entirely on divine revelation. He wanted to prove that he could translate. But his desire to prove that he could translate ended up backfiring on him in the case of the Book of Abraham. That mummy he purchased that he was so proud to exhibit to every visitor proved to be his undoing. He should have stuck to Hebrew, where he could at least plausibly argue that the words meant what he said they meant.

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