At the risk of being called a heretic, it is time to set the record straight concerning the Prophet Joseph Smith and the issue of plural marriage. Since the underlying goal is to know the absolute truth with regard to this issue it is helpful to review it by the comparison and contrast between revealed, unquestionable truths, and the supposition, opinion, and inherent unreliability of what the latest Church post refers to as the "historical record."
First the Absolute Truths:
1. God has revealed to the humble seekers of truth, including myself, that Joseph Smith was a decent, honorable, and moral man, and that he was God's chosen servant, prepared from the foundations of the world to restore the fullness of the Gospel of Jesus Christ to the Earth. That truth is based in revelation from the perfect God, through the perfect methodology of divine enlightenment from his Holy Spirit, (personal revelation) and thus it supersedes any human reliant or "historical" contradictions.
2. The practice of plural marriage is an exception, (granted by commandment from God only), to the heavenly and eternal standard of celestial marriage, which is between one man and one woman. This truth is based in God's holy word, and is likewise verified by revelation from the perfect God, through the perfect methodology of divine enlightenment from his holy spirit, and thus it also supersedes any human reliant or "historical" contradictions.
Now to the flawed human suppositions:
1. All history is human based and therefore necessarily flawed. History, "thin or otherwise" is undeniably revisionist, and, (unless clarified and confirmed by revelation from God), is therefore unreliable as the basis for verifying or knowing absolute truth. In a letter to the First Presidency about his concerns with the Church's own Historian's Office, Elder Packer gave great clarity to this point:
"It is a matter of orientation toward scholarly work— historians' work in particular—that sponsors my concern. I have come to believe that it is the tendency for most members of the Church who spend a great deal of time in academic research to begin to judge the Church, its doctrine, organization, and history, by the principles of their own profession. Ofttimes this is done unwittingly, and some of it perhaps is wholesome. However, it is an easy thing for a man with extensive academic training to consider the Church with the principles he has been taught in his professional training as his measuring standard.
In my mind it ought to be the other way around. A member of the Church ought always, particularly if he is pursuing extended academic studies, to judge the professions of men against the revealed word of the Lord."
2. There is a natural tendency in a church, which takes the divine commission seriously, to attempt to reconcile contradictions, or in the name of gaining favor or breaking down barriers, to appease public opinion and outcry, even when those opinions and outcries are based in flawed human reasoning; for example when the church published the Joseph Smith papers, which contained with the papers, spurious and academically flawed vignettes, produced by human endeavor and reliant upon revisionist history, all in an attempt to gain the approval of flawed human academics. Since the Church published the papers, when I took those vignettes to task, I was attack as being a heretic, or somehow unfaithful to the Lord's cause. Nothing could have been further from the truth. What I was actually doing was pointing out the foolishness of reliance upon academia, to discover or verify truths that can only be known by revelation. However while the publication was successful in gaining the earthly approval of flawed academia, (Hoorah) it did nothing to strengthen the faith of the Saints, or increase their spiritual witness of the Prophets' divine calling.
3. On occasion, the reliance upon history has lead some in the Church to accept as true, what was spurious and to go to great lengths to try and reconcile the accepted history with revelation, by academic gerrymandering. The Mark Hoffman "Salamander Letter" is a perfect example. After "science" had "proven" the letter to be legitimate, Church historians and academics did back flips trying to rationalize why a prophet of God would describe the angel Moroni, as turning into a salamander. Later events unfolded to demonstrate that science was actually "wrong" and the letter a clever forgery. That experience demonstrates the folly of assuming human based endeavors to be true, correct or accurate, when they clearly contradict revealed truth. Any human based and necessarily flawed contradictions to revealed truth, must be rejected, no matter how convincing, scientific, or air tight, the case is made for that proposition. If not so we are immediately subject to the power of the master deceiver who can work miracles in support of his destructive cause. We do not want to ever become as the protestants who have elevated the flawed and man made creeds, to the level of scripture, but we are very much doing that when we elevate human histories to the level of truth obtained by revelation.
4. When the Church websites makes such a statement as: "The historical record of early plural marriage is therefore thin: few records of the time provide details, and later reminiscences are not always reliable. Some ambiguity will always accompany our knowledge about this issue. Like the participants, we “see through a glass, darkly” and are asked to walk by faith." It demonstrates an appeal to those unenlightened by the Holy Spirit, and whose searches are based in academia. The fact is that, "thin or fat," historical records are always, unreliable for verification in the search for absolute truth. The fact also remains that even if records of the time contained vivid details, they would still be human based and subject to bias. Further, reminiscences are not only "not always reliable," they are in fact NEVER reliable as a methodology to verify absolute truth. As long as the searcher relies upon the arm of the flesh, and bases their search in human constructs, for them there will always be "some ambiguity" and it will exist in all issues. Thus the looking through the "glass darkly" is a reference to those who remain flesh reliant, and think to verify absolute truth by that method. However, just as with revelation, and resultant absolute knowledge it brings, renders faith dormant, even so in this area, revelation from God, by his holy spirit, removes all ambiguity, and one can then know absolutely, the truths affirmed at the beginning of this post.
5. It is interesting to note that many of the references in the Church's post, were to human based historical accounts. Since no one alive today was present, since all humans are biased and subject to the flaws of human nature, the references and works cited might be interesting, but they are not compelling. However, here is just such a quote from the Prophet John Taylor with regard to the Prophet Joseph Smith. True, it is human based, there is no flesh based independent way to know if he really said it, and if he did, what he really meant in the context in which it was presented. Therefore we cannot know by human construct if it is fact or opinion! Thankfully however, the Holy Ghost has verified to me that in this case, no matter the flaws of humanity, the quote is accurate and absolutely true. "I was acquainted with Joseph Smith for years. I have traveled with him; I have been with him in private and in public; I have associated with him in councils of all kinds; I have listened hundreds of times to his public teachings, and his advice to his friends and associates of a more private nature. I have been at his house and seen his deportment in his family. I have seen him, then, under these various circumstances, and I testify before God, angels, and men, that he was a good, honorable, virtuous man, that his private and public character was unimpeachable."