Sunday, May 17, 2009

A Certain Miss Emily Dow Partridge

The following is a quote from a recent email from a very distant cousin in England.

"Now here is something else to "wind you up " with . According to what I have gathered together Joseph Smith Jnr approached a Emily Dow Partridge aged 19 with this proposition. "The Lord has has commanded me to enter into a plural marriage and has given you to me. " He married her Sister Eliza aged 22 four days later . "

My first thought was "so what?" The second, not much kinder... "If he's digging all this crap up just to wind me up, I wish he'd quit." Actually, my wish that he'd quit digging up the dirt, so to speak, isn't that the questions annoy me. It's the suspicion in the back of my mind that his purpose is just to get me upset about something. On some of these subjects, I feel a bit like Rhett Butler (Gone With The Wind) when he says "Frankly, my dear, I don't give a damn!"

But just to humor my dear cousin, I googled Miss Emily Dow Partridge. She apparently did not have a pleasant life. Click here for a picture and autobiographical sketch: And here for a very sympathetic treatise on her life by Todd Compton: As I dug around, I learned she later married Brigham Young and also found him to be a disagreeable husband. Was she mistreated by these two men? Possibly. Over and above the fact that they are regarded as prophets, they were men and as prone to sin and error as any other man. Was her marriage experience all that different than other women of the time, plural or not? Probably not. The history of women in America is not a pretty picture. Too often and for too long, women were regarded as possessions much as one would regard the family dog or a new ox to pull the farm's plow. I'm glad times have changed... I think I like the battles I need to fight better than these!

So what do I think of Ms. Patridge's marriage to Joseph Smith? I think that when we focus so much on the frailties and inconsistencies of those long dead (and therefore not here to tell us what they really thought or did or said) and expect to be able to reconcile and figure it out as a condition for having a testimony of the Church's divinity misses the big picture. This focus makes you concentrate so much time on the trees that you miss, entirely, that there is a forest.

Is Joseph Smith, polygamy, or the Church itself on trial here? I would have to think, instead, that we are. Will we accept God's truth even when it comes to us via a flawed man? Or when we have unanswered questions about some of the details? I've always learned that faith is the hope of things that are true but not yet fully understood. What does it say about my faith if I struggle against these ancillairy details to the point that I won't allow myself to believe in the larger body of good works?

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