Adultery from apostle rocked Mormon Church 125-plus years ago

(To see Cal Grondahl’s cartoon that goes with this post, click here.) More than 125 years ago, the young Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was roiled by a tawdry affair of power-based predator adultery by elderly apostle Albert Carrington, who once named to the church hierarchy used his authority to seduce far younger women, including British converts barely out of their teens. Despite allegations stretching back a decade, Carrington escaped punishment until one of his mistresses confessed the sexual escapades to her new husband. At that point, his fall was swift.

Historian Gary Bergera recounts the Carrington case in the Summer 2011 issue of Journal of Mormon History. (It’s the first of a three-part series on LDS leaders who were disciplined for sexual misconduct). Carrington’s case is interesting not only for his bizarre defense, which echoes U.S. President Bill Clinton’s 100-plus years later, but for the culture of sexual dysfunction of that era, where elderly male church leaders were urged to select young plural brides while on assignments, yet “excessive indulgence in the marital relation” were denounced as sinful from LDS pulpits at the same time.

There’s no doubt that Albert Carrington, once editor of the Deseret News, was a despicable rake, and the outrage of his fellow apostles, who excommunicated him, was sincere. As Bergera relates, in 1882, more than a decade after being called as an apostle, Carrington was finishing his tenure as head of the LDS Church’s European mission when word reached his successor, John Henry Smith, that the 69-year-old Carrington has been seen in compromising positions with his housekeeper, Sarah Kirkman, 20.

Although church leaders were concerned enough to do a formal investigation and request a detailed response from Carrington in 1883, his denials brought a temporary end to the matter. Carrington rather shrewdly confessed to being “unwise” in his familiarity with Kirkman, but strongly denied any sexual misconduct. That was explanation enough for the Quorum of the 12 Apostles, which unanimously retained him as a member.

However, as Bergera relates, it wasn’t too long before the Quorum learned that Carrington had lied to them. In 1885, Kirkman, now married, told her husband, Richard Bridge, of her past sexual relations with Carrington, some of which had occurred in Utah after her marriage. After this reached the Quorum of the 12 Apostles, more investigation revealed that Carrington had committed adultery with other young women.

Confronted by his peers in the Quorum, Carrington admitted to sexual activity but used what might have been called a Clintonian defense a century later. He denied he had committed adultery because he “had not mixed his seed” with the women. Using what was later disgustingly referred to as a “four-inch defense,” Carrington insisted that withdrawing and ejaculating outside the women he had sex with cleared him of adultery. As his fellow apostles listened in horror and skepticism, Carrington described his activities as “a little folly in Israel” and thanked the Lord for clearing him of the sin of adultery.

As Bergera notes, the Quorum was quickly excommunicated him. Besides disapproval of the sins, his peers must have been angry with how Carrington’s behavior would hurt the church’s image, already suffering due to its practice of polygamy. Yet in his diary, Carrington, who had two wives, was mystified as to why he was cast out, insisting, Bergera records, that he had “never committed, even in thought,” adultery.

The former apostle’s health declined rapidly and before long he was bedridden. For more than a year, the now-repentant Carrington’s pleas for rebaptism were rejected by the apostles, many of whom were outraged at the blatant adultery, his explanations, and his longtime deception to them. One apostle, Moses Thatcher, Bergera records, was so incensed as to wish that adultery was a life-forfeiting sin. Future LDS President Heber J. Grant noted in his diary that Thatcher “hoped that the day was not far distant when the adulterer would forfeit his life, and then the question of rebaptism would never be raised.” Other apostles, with their new perception of the disgraced Carrington, “recollected” that he had never been a positive force in the quorum.

Time heals anger, as well as feelings of betrayal, and eventually mercy was granted Carrington. By the fall of 1887, the Quorum approved his re-baptism and confirmation. It occurred at the bedridden’s Carrington’s home. More than 30 years later, Grant, as LDS prophet, noted in General Conference that it was Section 64 of the LDS scripture Doctrine and Covenants, that moved him to OK Carrington’s rebaptism. Verse 10 reads, “I, the Lord, will forgive whom I will forgive, but of you it is required to forgive all men.”

Bergera, in his JMH article, writes that many of the LDS apostles “may have wondered why Carrington, as family patriarch, had not simply brought Kirkman to Utah and married her regardless of his wives’ reaction.” Carrington was alone in London while mission president. Interestingly, Carrington and other missionaries had been urged by LDS President Brigham Young to get married. Bergera notes, from the Journal of Jesse Nathaniel Smith, that Young told Carrington and others in 1868: “When you get over there I want each of you to select a good girl and marry her.” However, Bergera adds that Carrington refused to marry another wife unless his first wife, Rhoda Maria, was with him to help select a plural wife.

As Bergera writes, “There are hints that Carrington’s first wife, Rhoda, did not respond favorably to the prospect of additional wives; and as a consequence, Carrington may have felt less constrained regarding extramarital sexual activity.” If that’s so, it was a life-wrecking assumption.

Carrington had been member of the LDS Church since the Nauvoo era. The stress of his excommunication doubtless contributed to his rapid physical and mental deterioration after 1885. (It also helped end his daughter Jane’s long marriage to Brigham Young’s son, apostle Brigham Young Jr.) In fall 1889, as the 76-year-old Carrington was dying, LDS leaders agreed to his family’s request that he receive the LDS priesthood so he could be buried in the faith’s garments. As Bergera relates from the diary of John Nuttall, secretary to the First Presidency, Carrington died minutes before he was to be ordained. “It was afterwards decided (that) Bro. Carrington may be buried in his Temple clothing,” Nuttall recorded on Sept. 19 1889.

In fact, 15 minutes after his death, LDS Church President Wilford Woodruff directed elders to ordain the deceased former apostle an elder.

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19 Responses to Adultery from apostle rocked Mormon Church 125-plus years ago

  1. Myth Buster says:

    It was rocked by Mitt Romney’s Gypsy 4th generation grandpa Parley Pratt who committed adultery with his 9th polygamist wife too.

    • Wayne Dequer says:

      I doubt that Parley Pratt had Gypsy ancestry in which case you seem to be using the term as a inaccurate slur. Racial or ethnic slurs are inappropriate at best. If I have misunderstood, please explain.

      While I would disagree with the characterizations, if you took the time you could make a case that all of Parley Pratt’s plural wives were cases of adultery. However, how was wife #9–Martha Monk was born in Raynor, Chestershire, England, the daughter of Thomas and Sarah Monk who married Parley in 1847 at age 22 when Parley P. Pratt was age 40– more a case of adultery than others? If you meant wife #12, Elenor McComb McLean, you could make a better case although there is more than one way to read even in that case.

      If you want to bust myths, accuracy is vital or you become an other source of disinformation.

      • Myth Buster says:

        Parley’s 9th wife Eleanor was married to Hector McClean who chased the polygamist adulterer to Arkansas and shot him.
        I meant what I said Wayne; Romney was Romnichel, Welsh Kale Gypries. Anything else?

      • tom says:

        Wayne

        Perhaps you are new on the Standard comments boards.

        We have the “Howard” exception here, which basically means that any posts by Howard do not have to make a lick of sense as they are all figments of his very over active and Bat Shiite Crazy imagination. Oh, they are usually very entertaining to boot.

        • Wayne Dequer says:

          Tom,

          Thanks for the reminder.

          • Myth Buster says:

            Wayne you are right; some sources say 9th others say 12th wife. Here is a link to Romnichel being a Welsh Gypsy surname. gypsiesroma.blogspot.com/…/romney-surname-from-english-gypsies.

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  3. Angus says:

    Who cares what Mitt Romney’s ancestor did? This article isn’t about him!

  4. JustChuck says:

    It’s interesting that what was scandalous behavior in 1885, was — and still is — completely acceptable if it was done by the founder of the faith instead of a later apostle.

    Joseph Smith’s relationships outside of his first marriage started in the early 1830′s before he claimed to have restored the priesthood or received a revelation regarding polygamy. His wife was also opposed to the practice. And many of Smith’s plural wives were deep forays into forbidden behavior: Eleven of his wives were already married when he approached them with offers of relationship outside of their existing commitments. Eleven were teenagers, with one just fourteen. Some were coerced with promises of eternal life for their entire families and tales of avenging angels that threatened his life if they should fail to agree to his proposals.

    Indeed, the Joseph Smith of history would be far more welcome today on the grounds of Warren Jeff’s FLDS church than he would in any LDS church. But every Mormon pledges allegiance to this man and many state heart-felt belief that God called him to restore a lost Christianity. If apostle Carrington had been able to reach the office of prophet before the revelations of his misconduct became known, he would have been revered to this day as one of the prophets of the restoration. And church apologists would find ways to defend his actions as they currently do in defending Joseph Smith seeking relationships with teenage girls and married women.

    This is likely one of the reasons that recent studies show people are leaving the Mormon church at about the same rate as missionaries are recruiting them. All a member needs to do is a simple Google search to learn very difficult truths that no missionary or faithful member will ever tell them.

    For more information on this and dozens of other difficulties with the LDS faith, here are just a few of the organizations formed by or for ex-Mormons: http://www.utlm.org , http://www.4mormon.org and http://lifeafterministry.wordpress.com .

  5. decider says:

    Ok, let’s play THAT game.

    “A little folly in Israel”

    That is Larry Craig’s gay
    “footsy follies” excuse. or

    “Never commited even a thought of adultry”

    That could be the Newt Gingrich defense of his adultry being brought on by “excessive patriotism and working too hard for the country.”

    “I the Lord, will forgive whom I will forgive, but of you it is required of all men”

    That surely was the Kevin Garn gambit, when he confessed his hot tub lechery to the Legislature, followed by wild applause and a standing ovation.

    There are so many great analogies from BOTH political cesspools . . . .

  6. Pingback: Latest The History Of Jesus News | God is Love.

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  8. Tom Kimball says:

    It is also interesting that Carrington’s mistresses later asked to be sealed to him as plural wives.

    • Doug Gibson says:

      That is interesting. In fact, one was sealed and then later her daughter convinced the church hierarchy to cancel that sealing and seal her mom to her dad. It can all get quite confusing!

  9. Rex Whitmer says:

    Well, if we must get into such matters, much closer to home, Obama’s father had four wives and several women who weren’t married to him. Romney’s ancestors as you tell your stories were far more distant. Obama’s father was also a murderer and a terrorist as well. Looks like one heck of an election. No?

  10. tim says:

    Obama’s father had three wives but not at the same time since he wasn’t a old style Mormon…He was not a murderer or a terrorist. One finds no credible evidence of those charges.

  11. tim says:

    Obama’s father had three wives but not at the same time since he wasn’t a old style Mormon…He was not a murderer or a terrorist. One finds no credible evidence to support those charges.

  12. Mikeasell says:

    It appears that Carrington was, like Joseph Smith, a strong believer in the laying on of hands…Doug, how can you square, or your LDS readers for that matter, the fact that you write non-faith promoting stories? Has the LDS church ever cautioned you?

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