Note: This two-part episode is a departure from the usual focus of Latter-day Faith, which emphasizes teaching about and encouraging healthy faith development through introducing listeners to wise and powerful teachers in this area as well as to spiritual practices that can help us face our struggles with faith and church, families, communities, and with the world. In this podcast episode, Latter-day Faith host Dan Wotherspoon and his guest, Annika Rau, seek the same goals but take us into a dark area that will force us to wrestle with our ideas about God and prophets, presented in the context of “sexual grooming” and its relationship to the establishment of polygamy early in the history of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Please take care of yourselves. This podcast might not be a safe listen for you, and if you determine that to be the case, do not listen! If you do choose to listen, please stop whenever you might need to. Be kind to yourself. Breathe deeply. Practice self-care at every moment. Bless you.
Sexual grooming is the use of various techniques that allow someone to isolate a child or another person for the purpose of gaining trust so the groomer can initiate sexual contact with them and to then instruct the victim to keep their sexual relationship a secret. Sexual grooming often involves family members, as well, with the groomer establishing a trusting relationship with them that makes it much less likely they will suspect sexual assault is occurring while also rendering them more likely to reject any story they might be told by the victim.
The specific focus of this conversation is the relationship between sexual grooming of both the women he married and, very often, their family members and the establishment of polygamy early in the history of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. It is vital for all of us to wrestle with the many difficulties involved in hurtful practices instituted and practiced by Joseph Smith, Jr., whom Latter-day Saints consider a prophet of God. We must also wrestle about what, if anything, did God have to do with this practice and the grooming of children/young women that was essential if it were to take hold.
Religious and other charismatic leaders within other traditions as well as in politics have also used grooming techniques to further the fulfillment of their sexual desires. Grooming is an absolute evil and it is something we must learn to recognize should someone try to groom us or anyone we love or have direct concern for. Thus, a focus early in this episode is on grooming techniques themselves before turning to the grooming/polygamy question.
How might we be able to view Joseph Smith as both a prophet and sexual abuser? Can we? Must we “cancel” him because of this fact of his life history so we can completely ignore every other one of his qualities and positive contributions to many lives, and, as a by-product, the rest of the world? Do we need to wrestle with our conception of God and God’s character as most of us have at one time, or even now, taken it at face value that God might require sexual conquest of this type?
This episode seeks to inform about grooming and the techniques Joseph and other early church leaders used in helping Joseph convince four of his youngest brides(under the age of 20) to “consent” to this practice, including sexual contact. It does not seek to influence anyone that such conduct is incompatible with claims to be a “prophet” (in whatever sense we might have seen him). It does seek to convince that God had nothing whatsoever to do with polygamy and the grooming it required but everything to do with offering love, comfort, hope, optimism, insight and every other grace to the children and women who found themselves in unwanted relationships.
May our struggles with these things bring us into deeper relationship with God/the Universe/Love even if it means we must face very dark and sad facts.
Quote by Rachel Held Evans read on the podcast:
While I agree we can’t go making demands and bending God into our own image, it doesn’t make sense to me that a God whose defining characteristic is supposed to be love would present Himself to His creation in a way that looks nothing like our understanding of love. If love can look like abuse, if it can look like genocide, if it can look like rape, if it can look like eternal conscious torture—well, everything is relativized! Our moral compass is rendered totally unreliable.
Poem by Helen Mar Kimball read on the podcast:
I thought through this life my time will be my own
The step I now am taking’s for eternity alone,
No one need be the wiser, through time I shall be free,
And as the past hath been the future still will be.
To my guileless heart all free from worldly care
And full of blissful hopes and youthful visions rare
The world seamed bright the thret’ning clouds were kept
From sight and all looked fair but pitying angels wept.
They saw my youthful friends grow shy and cold.
And poisonous darts from sland’rous tongues were hurled,
Untutor’d heart in thy gen’rous sacrafise,
Thou dids’t not weigh the cost nor know the bitter price;
Thy happy dreams all o’er thou’st doom’d also to be
Bar’d out from social scenes by this thy destiny,
And o’er thy sad’nd mem’ries of sweet departed joys
Thy sicken’d heart will brood and imagine future woes,
And like a fetter’d bird with wild and longing heart,
Thou’lt dayly pine for freedom and murmor at thy lot;
But could’st thou see the future & view that glorious crown,
Awaiting you in Heaven you would not weep nor mourn.
Pure and exalted was thy father’s aim, he saw
A glory in obeying this high celestial law,
For to thousands who’ve died without the light
I will bring eternal joy & make thy crown more bright.
I’d been taught to reveire the Prophet of God
And receive every word as the word of the Lord,
But had this not come through my dear father’s mouth,
I should ne’r have received it as God’s sacred truth.
Helen Mar Kimball Whitney, “Autobiography, 30 March, 1881,” CHL.