By established tradition, Emma Smith has been held above reproach by the body of Latter-day Saints. It is acknowledged that she did not make the trek West after the death of her husband Joseph, but we all realize that she had some pretty compelling reasons for staying.
- She was the primary caregiver for her aged mother-in-law, Lucy Mack Smith.
- She felt the importance of preserving an inheritance for her five living children (one of whom was born five months after his father's death).
- She had tensions with Brigham Young and concerns about the proper line of succession.
- She remained unable to fully accept the principle of polygamy.
- She desired to seek refuge from the unrelenting turmoil and trials of her life.
Beside this, we paint Emma as the model of a prophet's faithful and dedicated wife.
- She supported herself and her children by taking in boarders during Joseph's frequent absences.
- She gathered supplies for the men of Zion's Camp.
- She crossed the frozen Mississippi with two babes-in-arms and two toddlers, carrying the manuscript of the JST hidden in her clothing.
- She cared for untold numbers of ill and homeless Saints as they migrated to Nauvoo.
Sure, we hear intimations from time to time that Emma was not always compliant in accepting "sister-wives" into the family. But to our modern sensibilities--to our society today wherein plural marriage has been repudiated--Emma's difficulties with "The Principle" can almost seem virtuous.
So it is with trepidation that I approach the topic of this post, which may seem critical of the First Lady of Mormonism. When we analyze D&C 25, we often dwell on the description of Emma as an "Elect Lady" (having received her Second Anointing), and the instructions given to her to prepare a collection of hymns. As we know, she fulfilled this assignment, working with W. W. Phelps to prepare the 1835 LDS Hymnal. In 1841 she expanded this early selection to 304 hymns in "A Collection of Sacred Hymns." In Section 25 we also see Emma directed to help Joseph with the translation of the Book of Mormon when scribes were not available. A BYU team was able to confirm that some of the original manuscript is in her handwriting.
But we don't often discuss verses 7 and 8 where Emma is told, "And thou shalt be ordained under his [Joseph's] hand to expound scriptures, and to exhort the Church according as it shall be given thee by my Spirit." She was also told that her time should be devoted to "writing" and to "learning much." We have no record that an "ordination" took place at this time. I hesitate to interpret the "ordination" Emma was promised as a foreshadowing of her calling as General Relief Society President 12 years later. Perhaps as leader of this women's organization she did her share of exhortation--but this was to a limited number of sisters, not to the entire Church. And we see no evidence of any expounding of scripture. I am unaware of any writing that Emma did that can be construed to fulfill the admonition given her in Section 25.
I believe that in verses 7 and 8 Emma Smith is being called as a "prophetess" in the Old Testament sense of the word. Not just as a prophet's wife, as in verse 5 and Isaiah 8:3, but as a female prophet as Miriam, Deborah, and Huldah. This use of the word prophesy placed the person who was called as a vicarious witness, or a spokes[wo]man for the Lord. How would the Church be different today if Emma had spoken in an authoritative voice to the members of the Church? What if we had even one scripture that she expounded by the Spirit?
Despite my feminism, I love what the Lord tells Emma in verse 5. I don't believe it detracts from a woman's strength when she accepts the Lord's call to be a comfort and support to her husband in his afflictions. We see over and over in Church history how Emma was able to be a comfort to Joseph. I just find it sad that Emma spent so much time and effort in supporting her husband that she was never able to fulfill the glorious promises that the Lord had given her as an individual.
1 Hearken unto the voice of the Lord your God, while I speak unto you, Emma Smith, my daughter; for verily I say unto you, all those who receive my gospel are sons and daughters in my kingdom.
2 A revelation I give unto you concerning my will; and if thou art faithful and walk in the paths of virtue before me, I will preserve thy life, and thou shalt receive an inheritance in Zion.
3 Behold, thy sins are forgiven thee, and thou art an elect lady, whom I have called.
4 Murmur not because of the things which thou hast not seen, for they are withheld from thee and from the world, which is wisdom in me in a time to come.
5 And the office of thy calling shall be for a comfort unto my servant, Joseph Smith, Jun., thy husband, in his afflictions, with consoling words, in the spirit of meekness.
6 And thou shalt go with him at the time of his going, and be unto him for a scribe, while there is no one to be a scribe for him, that I may send my servant, Oliver Cowdery, whithersoever I will.
7 And thou shalt be ordained under his hand to expound scriptures, and to exhort the church, according as it shall be given thee by my Spirit.
8 For he shall lay his hands upon thee, and thou shalt receive the Holy Ghost, and thy time shall be given to writing, and to learning much.
9 And thou needest not fear, for thy husband shall support thee in the church; for unto them is his calling, that all things might be revealed unto them, whatsoever I will, according to their faith.
10 And verily I say unto thee that thou shalt lay aside the things of this world, and seek for the things of a better.
11 And it shall be given thee, also, to make a selection of sacred hymns, as it shall be given thee, which is pleasing unto me, to be had in my church.
12 For my soul delighteth in the song of the heart; yea, the song of the righteous is a prayer unto me, and it shall be answered with a blessing upon their heads.
13 Wherefore, lift up thy heart and rejoice, and cleave unto the covenants which thou hast made.
14 Continue in the spirit of meekness, and beware of pride. Let thy soul delight in thy husband, and the glory which shall come upon him.
15 Keep my commandments continually, and a crown of righteousness thou shalt receive. And except thou do this, where I am you cannot come.
16 And verily, verily, I say unto you, that this is my voice unto all. Amen. (D&C 25)