What woman would not want to have earned the title "Elect Lady?" This evocative term was used to describe Emma Hale Smith in a revelation given by the Lord in July 1830. "Thy sins are forgiven thee," Emma was told, "and thou art an elect lady whom I have called." The appellation is an interesting one, and may possess shades of meaning beyond simply that Emma was an extraordinary and revered woman. How do the words "elect lady" fit in with her being "called?" Does this phrase have any connection with the ordination promised to her in verse 7? Following are several interpretations which can be made of the words "elect lady:"
An "Elect Lady" was a member of the Church
At the time of this revelation (July 1830), Emma Smith had recently been baptized (28 June 1830). She was to be confirmed a few weeks later--sometime in August. The revelation mentions in connection with the aforementioned ordination that Joseph "shall lay his hands upon thee, and thou shalt receive the Holy Ghost..." Thus it is possible to see the ordination as referring to Emma's confirmation as a member of the Church. Through baptism into the Lord's true Church, Emma had become part of the elect of the Lord. We find these words in D&C 29:7: “And ye are called to bring to pass the gathering of mine elect, for mine elect hear my voice and harden not their hearts.” Section 29 was given shortly before the Conference held Sept. 26, 1830, and reflects an early understanding concerning the meaning of the word “elect” as those who had been gathered in to the fledgling Church.
An "Elect Lady" means one elected to preside
Church apologetic tradition generally favors this interpretation of "Elect Lady." The verse is seen as a future promise to she who would later become the President of the Relief Society. This idea comes from two sources; one is Willard Richards' Nauvoo RS minutes:
President Smith read the Revelation to Emma Smith, from the book of Doctrine and Covenants; and stated that she was ordain'd at the time the Revelation was given, to expound the scriptures to all; and to teach the female part of community; and that not she alone, but others, may attain to the same blessings.--The other source for this information is the Manuscript History of the Church which states:
¶ The 2d Epistle of John, 1st verse, was then read to show that respect was there had to the same thing, and that why she was called an Elect lady is because elected to preside.
“I assisted in commencing the organization of ‘The Female Relief Society of Nauvoo’ in the Lodge Room. Sister Emma Smith, President, and Sister Elizabeth Ann Whitney and Sarah M. Cleveland, Counselors. I gave much instruction, read in the New Testament, and Book of Doctrine and Covenants, concerning the Elect Lady, and showed that the elect meant to be elected to a certain work, &c., and that the revelation was then fulfilled by Sister Emma’s election to the Presidency of the Society, she having previously been ordained to expound the Scriptures.” (History of the Church, 4:552–53.)
An "Elect Lady" was one who had been ordained to the Priesthood
Some have interpreted the ordination of Emma under the hands of Joseph as an ordination to the Priesthood. I am not inclined to give much credence to this theory, as the word "ordination" had not yet acquired the specific restriction to which we assign it today. In the 1830's the word was likely to be used as today we use the term "set apart." (see Smith, Church History and Modern Revelation, 1:126) However, a scripture which supports this view is found in D&C 84:34 where those of the Church who obtain the two priesthoods become "the church, and kingdom, and the elect of God." I also think that the connection of the word "elect" to the higher priesthood deserves consideration.
An "Elect Lady" was a term taken from Masonic ritual
On March 17, 1842, in the Masonic Hall in Nauvoo, Illinois, twenty women and two men listened as Joseph Smith, Jr., Prophet and President of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, organized the women of the Church and read the revelation he had received twelve years earlier, in 1830. "Thou art an elect lady, whom I [the Lord] have called," Joseph quoted. The significance of the venue of this setting-apart escapes us today because we are not acquainted with Masonic ritual.
Reed Durham has explained that the influence of Masonry began early in the history of the Church. Apparently, in an unorthodox form of Masonry called "Adoptive Masonry," women are included in Female Lodges. In this order, the highest woman is known as the "Elect Lady." There existed a close connection between the ceremonies for women in this Masonic order and the endowment ceremony later performed in Mormon temples. "Elect Lady" contains a temple symbolism which may have had its roots deep in the past. In this paradigm, Emma's appellation is connected with an expanded and glorified concept of Masonry which Joseph believed contained the remnants of ancient mysteries.
An "Elect Lady" was one whose calling and election was sure
Perhaps an understanding of "Elect Lady" as one who has had her calling and election made sure can make sense of all of these definitions and bring them together into a grand fulfillment. The Second Anointing was an ordinance performed at Nauvoo and often referred to as the "Fulness of the Priesthood." It was given to men and their wives to seal them up unto eternal life after they had proved faithful, and guaranteed them the promises of godhood.
David John Buerger has written an article detailing the evolution of the doctrine of election in the Church and the practice of the Second Anointing. In this article he shows that as early as 25 Oct 1831 Joseph Smith spoke of "the High Priesthood and the power given them to seal up the Saints unto eternal life," thereby making their calling and election sure. In the School of the Prophets established January 1833, no one was admitted without having received the ordinance of being sealed up unto eternal life. On the 6th of February 1836 a "sealing" of former endowment blessings took place in the Kirtland Temple, and in June of 1839, Joseph more clearly defined the concept of calling and election in a sermon based on 2 Peter 1:10-11. We see, then, that although not fully articulated until 1843, the seeds of the principle of election were present about the time that Emma received the revelation in D&C 25. Notice in verse 3 that Emma's sins are forgiven, the Lord has called her as an elect lady and in verse 7 an ordination is mentioned.
Regardless of their meaning, these words must have been a comfort to the newly-baptized Emma. Her baptism was performed under a great deal of stress for the Mormons. The group had formed a dam which would create a pool in which their people could be baptized. This was destroyed by opponents, and had to be rebuilt. After several of the Saints had completed the ordinance, a crowd of hecklers gathered to ridicule and revile them. Joseph was arrested for "causing an uproar over teaching the Book of Mormon". When he returned, it was late into planting season, and Emma wanted Joseph to stay around, plant, and establish a home. Section 25 was received at this time. It contained promises of hope for the future. The terms were such that they would grow in significance to her as the years went by.