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The Secret Facebook War for Mormon Hearts and Minds (thedailybeast.com)
95 points by coloneltcb on Feb 10, 2019 | hide | past | favorite | 52 comments

> About 1,000 people who saw the Facebook ad clicked on it and were taken to a page deep within the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints’ website that expounded on the “revelation on plural marriage,” the order from God that was used to sanction polygamy for decades.

Worth pointing out that they did not link to "anti mormon" literature, but the church's own website about polygamy.

Probably this article:


“Ex-Mormons responded in droves to dump their contact lists of current Mormons. By the end of the first day his ad target list had grown from 30 to 397”

So now people get doxxed by friends and family. Imagine someone pretending to do this to influence someone in one direction, but then using it for any other reason. Who can say none of their friends would be tricked?

Not saying that any of this was the right response for them to take but many of these people were recently mormon and therefor had the working that the mormon church uses still fresh in their minds.

The mormon church constantly asks its members to tell the missionaries their non-mormon friends names, phone numbers, and addresses so missionaries can visit and try to convert them. While we see things from the technology side, the mormon church has done the sneaker-net version of the same thing for a very long time.

In my observation, ex-Mormons are particularly vindictive, even by normal Christian atheist standards.

Similar to how current Mormons are?

Maybe? It might also depend on whether or not they are from Utah/Southern Idaho, because the California mormons I know are pretty laid back. In any event defining one's identity in terms of a negation observably warps one's outlook, and I've never seen it be positive.

Mormons obviously believe some pretty strange things, but they also tend to live pretty admirable lives, with a strong focus on community, family, charitable giving, and more.

I'm an active member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, and I've tried to be as educated as possible about the controversial/anti-mormon stuff (for example I've read the CES letter). But this is the first time I've come across this claim:

"During that time [when plural marriage was part of the doctrine] some male followers of the Latter Day Saint movement took dozens of wives each, disproportionately favoring girls between 14 and 16 years old."

There's no reference, does anyone have a source for that?


Starting on page 37, the complete data is published including the marriage age of husband and wife (I didn't actually download it, and was looking at the charts sideways.) There are definitely a lot of <= 16 wives. I guess the question is disproportionate to what? The rest of the US population at the time? It's a vague statement to begin with. Anyway, you can count them yourself, I just took a quick glance, and yes, there are a lot.

I've never been involved with the LDS church, but you could find a lot of interesting information at the Ex Mormon section of Reddit:


And the wiki that goes along with it:


There's no dearth of places to find ex-mormon/anti-mormon info. I'm looking for documentation of that specific claim.

I did follow the links, but I didn't see anything promising.

A quick Google search returned a Wikipedia article[0] listing 49 women that were allegedly married to Joseph Smith, plus other articles detailing his marriages, so there's one good lead to follow up on.

Wikipedia also has a table of other early church leaders with the number of wives they had[1], which at least gives you some leads to dig further to validate their claims.

[0]: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Joseph_Smith%27s_wives

[1]: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Latter_Day_Saint_pract...

It's actually hard to find anti-mormon anything. There isn't as many people who have something in particular against the Mormon church as Mormons were raised to believe (including me - I'm an ex-mormon). Most of the compaining is by freethinkers who are against religions that are overly strict or exclusive (Mormons are encouraged not to date or marry outside of the Mormon church even though Mormons call themselves Christians, for example).

It exists in some areas. I was raised in an area of the south where a large Baptist church wielded a significant amount of influence. I often saw anti-Mormon flyers passed around. I don't know if it's very common, but those messages have been out there for a long time.

There is plenty of anti-Mormon sentiment among American Protestants who happily deny Mormon status as Christians while willfully ignoring that their own particular stream of Christian practice is only a small slice of the doctrines that have been developed over the millennia.

It's not just protestants. The Catholic Church also teaches that Mormons are not Christians, because they don't have valid baptism[1]. I wouldn't be surprised if the Orthodox teach the same, but someone else will have to speak to that.


I'm not Mormon and never was but I've seen plenty of anti-Mormon statements and bias. I live on the East Coast and I head plenty of comments about Romney and Mormons during 2012.

> There's no dearth of places to find ex-mormon/anti-mormon info.

Off-topic, but I visited Salt Lake City last year and I was surprised by a bookstore that had both a Mormon section and an Anti-Mormon section. I'd never seen an Anti-Mormon section in a bookstore before, and I certainly didn't expect to see it in SLC of all places. But in retrospect, it kind of makes sense that people would have stronger opinions about Mormonism—good or bad—in places where its influence is greater.

I've found Salt Lake City to have a surprisingly diverse population and to be fairly politically moderate. Most smaller towns in Utah though are much closer to what many people think of when they hear Utah.

A lot of people in that sub Reddit have researched the church's history. Maybe the way to go is to post a question there and see if anybody can get you a source in support of the claim, or a source that refutes the claim. No need to redo legwork that's already been done.

Fair point. I will give it a shot.

The original demographic research:


And a review of its more recent book-length expansion:


I did a search for the number 14 and 16 without seeing anything that matched the claim. The closest I saw was

"These men averaged thirty-six years of age (range: 24-60) and had been married an average of ten years (1-32 years) before marrying a second wife of a mean twenty-five years of age (14-39 years). At that time, their legal wives averaged thirty-two years of age (22-56)."

I don't think that claim is about Joseph Smith and marriages while he was alive, because polygamy wasn't official church doctrine then.

I haven't found a good dataset, but this book has this comment: "Latter-day Saints were surprisingly obedient to the counsel to marry, and in 1860 Manti, only 1.6 percent of women over the age of 16 had never been to the altar." I believe 14 was the minimum legal age of marriage for at least part of that time, so that would mean almost all women were married between 14-16. Depending how many of them re-married after being widowed or divorced, or how many older women migrated in for marriage, I'm not sure what the overall stats of 'age at marriage' would look.

That's a rather horrifying statistic, especially as nowadays we would not class 14-16 year olds as "women". It beggars belief that 98.4% of Mormon girls would have fallen in love by age 16, especially with older men who already have a harem of wives, so we have to assume a shocking degree of social pressure, amounting essentially to arranged marriages.

I've always wondered at the historical accuracy of "A Study In Scarlet", but its depiction of the social climate regarding marriage among the LDS would appear to be spot-on...

FWIW Manti in 1860 probably had a population of a few hundred, so the population of females aged 16-25 (or whatever upper age you think is reasonable) could have been quite small.

If only 2% of women over age 16 as also under age 18, that statistic is not so shocking. I don't agree that this statistic alone demonstrates that "almost all women were married between 14-16."

"A study in scarlet" is not historically accurate. IIRC, Conan Doyle said so himself.

Didn't realize I forgot the actual book link, not sure which one it was now. The population was about 1000.

The historical norm for girl v.s. woman is drawn at puberty. The mormons might have been an outlier in the US at the time, but until industrialization, most women were having their first child in their mid to late teenage years.

Even today, the median age for a woman having her first child in some poorer countries such as Niger, Bangladesh etc. is 18 years[1]. That means a lot of them are younger than that. If you get a group of ten 15 year old girls from Bangladesh, statistically one of them will be nursing their first child.

So let's be careful to judge history by the standards of today. Sure, some of this was mormon practices, but other parts of it was just because these people were doing the same thing most poor peasants on the rest of the planet were doing and considered normal.

1. https://www.nationmaster.com/country-info/stats/People/Mothe...

2. http://www.hips.hacettepe.edu.tr/nbd_cilt35/nahar_zahangir.p...

We’re most women in the United States marrying that young? I think I saw somewhere that the average age of marriage wasn’t too far from today.

FWIW, in places where polygamy is widespread, there is usually a shortage of potential female mates. This puts a downward pressure on the age at which girls are sought for marriage.

The quote you quoted does say "some...took dozens...disproportionately favoring..." That could be 2 out of a million to count as "some," and maybe those 2/1,000,000 disproportionately took very young wives. If they used most instead of some, your point would be more valid I think. some is ambiguous and could be any number.

The founder Joseph Smith had 14, 16, 17 year old brides. If it was allowed for Joseph Smith why should anyone else be different?

No reason at all. It was generally allowed in the U.S. Age of consent was typically 10 years old until 1885 https://discover-the-truth.com/2013/09/09/age-of-consent-in-...

"After 1885, age of consent laws changed around the country, reaching 16 in New York in 1889 and 18 in 1895. Prior to these changes the age of consent in most places in the United States was 10 or 12 years."

There's a very strong trend to criticize historical figures for not conforming to modern standards, but it's not usually very useful in understanding their character.

This is a common rationalization taught to educated true-believing mormons. While it is true that the age of consent was lower than today, according to the contemporary census (1890s is what I have records for, Smith's relationships were 1830s-40s) age of marriage was about the same it is now (http://i.imgur.com/HnQjG67.png).

Whats more, looking at comparable relationships contemporary or even before Smith's time, let's say Sally Hemmings and Thomas Jefferson (15 and 45 respectively) in the late 18th century and you can clearly find plenty of condemnation of the age disparity between the two.

I'm sure there were others who were fine with men like Jefferson and Smith preying on teenagers, but it does not mean it was considered ok then.

1890s/1900 was actually a local maximum in women's marriage age that would not be equalled until about 1980. http://users.hist.umn.edu/~ruggles/Articles/Fitch_and_Ruggle... shows 10% of native-born, white US women were married by age 17 in 1850 (first year of data), and that 10% threshold rose rapidly through the latter half of the century, so it may have been more common to have very young brides earlier in the century. Though at 10% even in 1850, it was not unusual. Add confounding factors like immigration and poverty, and young brides may have been even more common (and vulnerable to be protected or taken advantage of depending on your perspective)

> This is a common rationalization taught to educated true-believing mormons.

FWIW I'm not a Mormon (or an American). So I have no dog in this fight. I just find the historical demographics & statistics interesting.

> [...]age of marriage was about the same it is now (http://i.imgur.com/HnQjG67.png).

Yes, if you look at the average for the population as a whole. But once you look at percentile breakdowns (such as page 26 of [1]) you see a very different picture.

In 1850 the 10th & 25th percentile of marriage age for white women was 17.0 and 18.8, respectively, 16.2 and 17.8 if they were black.

It seems very likely that if you were a sustenance farmer on the frontier in a town that had been established just 10-15 years prior (such as Manti, UT being discussed here) it wouldn't be unusual for "normal" locally to be what was the "normal" for the 5th or percentile of the population as a whole, or even lower.

Furthermore as the [1] paper notes the marriage age (and childbearing) ages in Western Europe and North America were inflated over the rest of the globe at the time, due to a difference in societal structure.

I wouldn't be surprised if isolated communities in North America such as the Mormons or the Amish who were deliberately setting out to do their own thing looked very different demographically.

> Sally Hemmings and Thomas Jefferson (15 and 45 respectively) in the late 18th century and you can clearly find plenty of condemnation of the age disparity between the two.

Yes, that sort of thing is definitely an outlier, and the Mormons with their polygamy practices can rightly be said to be unusual in this regard.

But that shouldn't be confused with the question of whether the age of first marriage (or child) should per-se be considered profoundly unusual for the time, or some extreme outlier. As far I can tell it wasn't.

1. http://users.hist.umn.edu/~ruggles/Articles/Fitch_and_Ruggle...

2. https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=19131894

> There's a very strong trend to criticize historical figures for not conforming to modern standards, but it's not usually very useful in understanding their character.

Smith was considered an outlier by his contemporaries. This is not simply a case of applying modern standards to a 19th-century person. People alive at the time considered his marriages abnormal.

The polygamy part. But not necessarily the age part.

The legal age of consent is the legal age of marriage, but not the normal age of marriage. How many people do you know who married at the age of consent? Most people marry later.

What we would consider child marriage was normal then, but polygamy was not. Polygamy was one of the charges leveled against Mormons during their various persecutions in Ohio, Missouri, and Illinois.

Was child marriage really normal back then? The stats I've seen say 19th Century women were getting married in their early 20s and men in their mid 20s. It went down by a few years in the 1950s and 1960s before going up to what it is now.

Mormons have always been shall we say criticized for their unorthodox sex lives. They didn't up in Utah because they liked the fresh air. In fact Nevada and Utah split because non believers didn't want to share a State with them.

I'm not saying it didn't happen. It's clear it happened, a lot. I'm taking issue with the idea that the wives were "disproportionally" 14-16.

>I'm taking issue with the idea that the wives were "disproportionally" 14-16

Isn’t the usual proportion somewhere slightly above 0%?

"Bountiful has come under intense scrutiny for its involvement in the polygamous sect. Warren Jeffs, who was one of the FBI's Ten Most Wanted Fugitives, is thought to have visited a dozen or so times in 2005. The Vancouver Sun on January 28, 2006, released information stating that Utah's Attorney General is collaborating with British Columbia's Attorney General in attempting to deal with polygamy and the alleged abuse in these communities. Jeffs was captured by the authorities outside Las Vegas during August 2006 during a routine traffic stop. On September 25, 2007 Jeffs was found guilty of being an accomplice to rape. Prosecutors said Jeffs forced a 14-year-old girl into marriage and sex with her 19-year-old first cousin."


The FLDS are not related to the LDS

They're both offshoots of Smith's movement.

Interesting read but I'd have to say that the ExMormon subreddit mods made the right decision to ban this guy. Using under-handed and manipulative means to 'rescue' people from a religion or cult is not good.

A perspective on how it was to be a Mormon wife (specifically, one of Brigham Young's wives) is available in a book "Wife no. 19" by Ann Eliza Young, self-described as "Brigham Young's apostate wife". Published in 1876, readable at [1].

It's been the focal point of quite a few spirited discussions between the Mormon members of my family and (non-Mormon) me.

[1] https://archive.org/details/wifenoorstoryofl00youniala/page/...

Doesn't seem much different than how christian groups will advertise "pregnancy options counseling"

It is an interesting thing where neighbors could Target neighbors, spouses even, from behind social media?


Abrahamic religions are weird in general. What's your point?

The article highlights the fact that it is now possible for single individuals to order Facebook ads targeted at very specific groups, and asks whether the practice is ethical or not. This could just as easily have been done inside other organizational structures, such as political parties and other interest groups.

Thank you for the summary

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