Faithful Mormons argue that Smith was trying to protect widows or elderly women, so he married them to legitimately help them. But in 1843 alone, Smith betrayed his wife by secretly marrying twelve women, two already married to other men. If Smith's motives were entirely honorable then why would he have hidden his honorable behavior from Emma? If Smith longed to provide for elderly widows, then why did he pursue a woman like Lucy Walker Kimball?
Lucy’s mother had died so Joseph and Emma offered to care for Lucy and her brothers while their father went on mission. Lucy served as Emma’s maid while she attended school. When Lucy was fifteen Joseph invited her to live in his home, explaining “I have a message for you. I have been commanded of God to take another wife, and you are the woman.” Smith’s pressure (he renewed the request regularly declaring it was "the command of God") ultimatums (requiring that she decide or he would remove the "favor of God's prophet" from her and never renew the request again) and finally a heavenly vision (Smith promises her a vision to assuage her conscience) convinces Lucy to secretly wed Joseph.
Lucy’s brother performed the ceremony.
Lucy’s testimony is not a strangely mislead teenager writing to malign the character of a man she hated. Historian Richard Lyman Bushman calls Lucy’s example “the standard autobiography for the celestial marriage narratives in
Ten of Smith’s wives were under twenty. In reading their personal narratives it becomes clear that it is not their conviction of celestial marriage (read polygamy) as proper or good, nor their romantic aspirations toward Smith that convince them to enter into marriage with him. It is Smith’s spiritual pressure that finally breaks their resolve and prompts them into obedience.
Emma Smith had to live with the unpleasant dilemma of faith in her husband’s teachings and disgust in his plural marriages. I can only imagine how his secrecy incited her disappointment and distrust. Smith offered Emma more financial security and even some freshly received revelation from God that proved that plural marriages were God’s idea not Smith's. Nevertheless, Emma was unwilling to accept Smith’s wives.
Smith engaged in secrecy, spiritual abuse and polygamy. Some Mormons have shared with me that even the Bible shows the patriarchs engaging in polygamy. And they are correct, we do find several instances of polygamy, but it fascinates me that God never condoning or encourages multiple wives. Quite the opposite, God warns the kings of
Haven't you read," he replied, "that at the beginning the Creator 'made them male and female,' and said, 'For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh'? So they are no longer two, but one. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate."
"Why then," they asked, "did Moses command that a man give his wife a certificate of divorce and send her away?"
Jesus replied, "Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because your hearts were hard. But it was not this way from the beginning. I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another woman commits adultery" (Matt 19:4-9).
*Kimball, Lucy Walker. Autobiographical Sketch. Church Archives. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.