NEW YORK -- The Mormon Church has ended more than 200 years of deceit by admitting that its leader and prophet had 40 wives – many whom were already married. One wife, it concedes, was only 14-years-old.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, established in the 1830s in upstate New York, had hitherto portrayed its founder Joseph Smith as a loyal, monogamous husband to his wife Emma.
However, in a move towards openness (and to offer an official line on the information about the religion available online), the Church has accepted claims made by detractors that Smith was indeed a polygamist, similar to his successor, Brigham Young, who established the Mormon church in its current home in Salt Lake City, Utah.
Though the church acknowledged that Smith had between 30-40 wives, it did suggest that he was unlikely to have had sex with them all as many were "sealed" for the afterlife. On the matter of age, the church said that most of Smith’s wives were between the ages of 20 and 40, however Helen Mar Kimball was wed to the prophet while still only 14.
In the past, the Church had banned gays from worship and denied African Americans entry into the priesthood. The practice of polygamy was outlawed in the 1890s under pressure from the federal government.
The latest revelation was made in an essay posted online by the church, which said that Smith’s multiple marriages must have been an “excruciating ordeal” for his wife.
Speaking to the New York Times, blogger Emily Jensen said the revelation has been difficult for some Mormons to take, their reaction resembling the five states of grief.
“Joseph Smith was presented to me as a practically perfect prophet, and this is true for a lot of people,” she told the newspaper. “This is not the church I grew up with, this is not the Joseph Smith I love.”