June 13, 2010


Most believers who are aware of common criticisms of the LDS church admit that, at first glance, some of them seem concerning. Most agree that the idea of polygamy initially rubs them the wrong way, and that the official denial of priesthood to persons of African descent seems like it may have been a mistake. But these same believers tend to discount the serious ramifications of these problematic doctrines, giving past leaders of the Church the benefit of a doubt. Believers generally tend to say something to the effect of, "Although it looks really bad, there's probably a justifiable reason for it somewhere."

The Bible counsels believers not only to avoid evil, but to "abstain from all appearance of evil" (1 Thessalonians 5:22.). It seems troublesome, however, that the same God who inspired this counsel, also appears to often flirt with the appearance of evil by commanding His chosen instruments to do things which go against moral conscience.

The most obvious example may be Joseph Smith, Jr.'s form of polygamy. He lied to his wife about courting women behind her back, and then consummated marriages with them. He pressured girls as young as 14 to marry him. He took women from their first husbands to become his own wives. He used followers to pose as husbands to some of his several wives (e.g., Compton, 2001; another source). He publicly and privately lied about his practice several times (source), and he supposedly did these things under the direction of God.

It is a difficult argument to make that these things did and do not, at a minimum, appear evil, especially because it took years for Smith to own up to them - he never admitted his deeds to anyone but his elite - and the current LDS church condemns the practice of polygamy (source).

How are we to interpret these events? The Bible counsels us to avoid the appearance of evil, and yet past Church leaders have done so much that appears evil without ever offering reasonable explanations. Are we to err on the side of the wise biblical counsel and truly hold leaders accountable, or are we to allow them the appearance of evil under the protection of our faith?

Compton, T. (2001). In sacred loneliness: The plural wives of Joseph Smith. Salt Lake City, UT: Signature Books.