The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has recently published an essay on its website acknowledging that founder Joseph Smith had a teenage spouse. The founder of the Exmormon Foundation, however, says the essay is misleading, because Joseph Smith had more than one teenage bride.
In an essay about polygamy, the church noted the various wives that Smith married, acknowledging that at least one of them was not yet 15 when she married the religious leader.
Titled "Plural Marriage in Kirtland and Nauvoo," the essay had a section specifically focused on Smith's marriages, listing those whom he wedded.
"Most of those sealed to Joseph Smith were between 20 and 40 years of age at the time of their sealing to him. The oldest, Fanny Young, was 56-years-old," read the essay.
"The youngest was Helen Mar Kimball, daughter of Joseph's close friends Heber C. and Vilate Murray Kimball, who was sealed to Joseph several months before her 15th birthday. Marriage at such an age, inappropriate by today's standards, was legal in that era, and some women married in their mid-teens."
The essay went on to explain that the union likely did not include sexual relations and that, following Smith's death, Kimball remarried and was an apologist for plural marriage.
"Helen Mar Kimball spoke of her sealing to Joseph as being 'for eternity alone,' suggesting that the relationship did not involve sexual relations," continued the essay.
As to the evidence, the footnotes backing this claim included a scholarly work published in 2011 by Brigham Young University's Religious Studies Center as well as Kimball's own writings, including her autobiography.
While the essay was seen as part of the overall recent effort by the church to address more awkward parts of their past, some are unconvinced at the sincerity of the endeavor.
Richard Packham, founder and past president of The Exmormon Foundation, told The Christian Post that he felt the essay was "misleading" because "Helen Mar Kimball was not the only teenager that Smith married."
"There were several others, including girls who were legally his wards," said Packham, who also took issue with the claim that teenage brides were common back then.
"It was highly unusual. And it was not just a matter of a 14-year old marrying. It was a 14-year-old marrying a 37-year-old man who already had over 20 wives, and thus illegal, according to the law."
Regarding the impact of the information, Packham told CP that he felt the revelation "may make it a little more difficult for Mormon missionaries to attract converts."
"Some members of the church will be disturbed at this 'new' information, but the truly faithful will not be shaken," said Packham.
The church's recent official acknowledgement of their founder having married an under-aged woman was a turnaround from past practice, according to Brady McCombs of The Associated Press.
"The essay posted this week on the church's website marked the first time the Salt Lake City-based religion has officially acknowledged those facts, though it also has not denied them," reported McCombs.
"The new article about Smith's wives during the 1830s and 1840s in Kirtland, Ohio, and Nauvoo, Illinois, comes about 10 months after the church acknowledged polygamy was widely practiced among its members in the late 19th century."