Currently the issue of Joseph Smith and plural marriage is receiving a great deal of attention both in the media and on the blogosphere. As the author of a relevant trilogy, Joseph Smith’s Polygamy: History and Theology, coauthor of the newly released Joseph Smith’s Polygamy: Toward a Better Understanding, co-webmaster of JosephSmithsPolygamy.org, and webmaster of MormonPolygamyDocuments.org, it has been interesting to see how various writers, bloggers, podcasters, and others deal with this topic and the historical evidences.
I have seen my name pop up many times and believe I might need to advise everyone that my first name is not “apologist” and my middle name is not Brian. Most of the references to me by name seem to be “apologist Brian Hales.” Gratefully the “a” in apologist is usually not capitalized, so maybe there is no confusion. I have also been referred to as a conservative Mormon, a believer, and, more recently, a fact-checker. Titles like scholar, doctor, researcher, and historian are less common or non-existent. I am, in fact, a historian, but an amateur not a professional.
Within blogs and essays dealing with polygamy, one is less likely to encounter an author labelled as a critic, unbeliever, antagonist, skeptic, or liberal than an apologist. This may be because some of these words are pejorative, and people, in general, try to be respectful. However, the word “apologist” can also be used pejoratively, but its use seems to be acceptable nonetheless.
Everyone has biases and understanding those biases is often important to contextualize the interpretations advanced by any author. However, one observer recently wrote to me: “The dialogue about polygamy has been fascinating although it is disappointing that . . . at times, it turns into more of a personal attack on you than a mere debate on the issues.”
This is sometimes referred to as an ad hominem attack, which is a logical fallacy meaning one is attacking the person proffering the argument rather than attacking the argument itself. This tactic is often employed when there is no easy response to the argument.
I’m not one to embrace victimhood and am generally thick-skinned. But I would offer a possible reason for what may be a tendency to criticize me and my writings when dealing with the topic of plural marriage rather than dealing more strictly with the historical evidences.
Having tried to view every known document dealing with Joseph Smith and plural marriage, I recently have come up with only one question regarding new blogs and podcasts that dissect the Prophet’s plural marriage actions: “Do the authors and speakers present any new evidence in their essay?” That is, when someone emerges with a new allegation or criticism of Joseph Smith and polygamy, is it based upon primary documents that are already available, or is it due to some new discovery that adds additional light on this topic?
No new documents of any significance have been discovered in the last two years. Consequently, the critics are simply revamping arguments surrounding a particular piece of evidence that has been previously available. This can be useful because new insights are always possible. However, my experience with recent critical essays, blogs, podcasts, and posts is that they seldom rise in their level of scholarship beyond tabloid accusations. There may be some exceptions, but they are few.
It is true that Joseph Smith was not without flaw; only Christ was perfect. Yet, there is no plain evidence that Joseph was guilty of sexual sins that would have prevented his ability to function as an inspired prophet. When speaking during the Q&A portion of a session at the 2013 Sunstone Symposium, Gary Bergera, another polygamy scholar, and I both agreed that “there is no smoking gun.” No person left a credible record that Joseph Smith seduced a woman or anything close to it.
There are, however, numerous contradictory and ambiguous statements that could be interpreted either way, depending upon the biases of the reviewer. For example, four of the hottest topics include Fanny Alger, fourteen-year-old brides, sexual polyandry, and Mary Heron. I have documented that while Mosiah Hancock, Eliza R. Snow, Fanny’s parents, and Fanny herself believed a plural marriage occurred, Emma Smith and Oliver Cowdery believed it was adultery.(1)
Similarly, Todd Compton acknowledged that evidence regarding Joseph Smith’s consummation of his union with fourteen-year-old Helen Mar Kimball is ambiguous.(2)
Concerning the practice of a plurality of husbands, non-apologist Dan Vogel admitted, “There is no solid evidence of polyandrous sexuality in any of Joseph Smith’s plural marriages.”(3) Mike Quinn, unarguably one of the most accomplished of all Mormon scholars, also agreed.(4)
One statement reported a sexual relationship between Joseph and Mary Heron Snider, a legally married woman. But when Joseph was accused by William Law in January 1844 of adultery with a plural wife, one of the witnesses called by the Prophet to testify of his moral uprightness was Mary’s husband, John Snider.(5)
So what do we conclude concerning these incidences? Many claim Joseph Smith was an adulterer with Fanny Alger, a pedophile with Helen Mar Kimball, practiced sexual polyandry, and committed adultery with Mary Heron. However, the evidences are hardly conclusive and the alternate view that Joseph married Fanny, did not seek or consummate the union with Helen, never practiced sexual polyandry, and was viewed as morally upright by those who knew the details of his behaviors is equally plausible.
While polygamy has become the latest focus for unbelievers, similar attacks years ago upon the divine origin of the Book of Mormon caused Elder Neal A. Maxwell to conclude: “It is the author’s opinion that all the scriptures, including the Book of Mormon, will remain in the realm of faith. Science will not be able to prove or disprove holy writ. However, enough plausible evidence will come forth to prevent scoffers from having a field day, but not enough to remove the requirement of faith. Believers must be patient during such unfolding.”(6)
Perhaps there is a parallel here. The historical record cannot be used to prove or disprove Joseph Smith’s motivations and actions in establishing plural marriage. However, enough plausible evidence is available to prevent critics from declaring victory regarding their claims of uncontrolled libido and to convince many observers that he established polygamy because of divine directive.
So, “hello,” my name is just Brian Hales. I have spent twenty years researching the early practice of polygamy, motivated by a desire to answer questions just like the ones you have. I am a believer and an apologist. Some think that apologists are spinners of the evidence, but I see myself as a researcher following the evidence to its most likely conclusion. We can critique the evidence, the interpretation, or the messenger. However, shifting our analysis toward the documents and away from the people who have viewed them may be more useful as we move toward a better understanding of Joseph Smith’s practice of polygamy.
 See Levi Ward Hancock Autobiography with additions in 1896 by Mosiah Hancock, 63, CHL, (Ms 570, microfilm); Eliza R. Snow’s handwriting in Andrew Jenson Papers [ca. 1871-1942], MS 17956; CHL, Box 49, Folder 16, documents 1; Ann Eliza Webb Young, Wife Number 19; or, The Story of a Life in Bondage, Being a Complete Exposé of Mormonism, and Revealing the Sorrows, Sacrifices and Sufferings of Women in Polygamy (Hartford, Conn.: Dustin, Gilman, 1876), 66–67; Eliza J. Webb [Eliza Jane Churchill Webb], Lockport, New York, letter to Mary Bond, May 4, 1876, Biographical Folder Collection, P21, f11, item 9, Community of Christ Archives; Oliver Cowdery, Letter to Warren A. Cowdery, 21 January 1838, copied by Warren F. Cowdery into Oliver Cowdery Letterbook, Huntington Library, San Marino, California, Emma’s comments to William McLellin in Stan Larson and Samuel J. Passey, eds., The William E. McLellin Papers, 1854–1880 (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 2007), 395.
 Todd Compton, In Sacred Loneliness: The Plural Wives of Joseph Smith (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1997), 14; see also “Early Marriage in the New England and Northeastern States, and in Mormon Polygamy: What Was the Norm?” in The Persistence of Polygamy: Joseph Smith and the Origins of Mormon Polygamy, eds. Newell G. Bringhurst and Craig L. Foster (Independence, Mo.: John Whitmer Books, 2010), 231.
 See http://josephsmithspolygamy.org/hales-vogel-1-facebook-exchanges/.
 See http://josephsmithspolygamy.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/01/Quinns-FINAL-RESPONSE.pdf and then go to endnote 267 on page 118.
 Dinger, John S., ed., The Nauvoo City and High Council Minutes (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 2011), 199.
 Neal A. Maxwell, Plain and Precious Things (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1983), 4.