Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Emma's Calling to Exhort and Expound

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)


Rich said...

I'm grateful there are women like you that are taking up the challenge to exhort and expound, even if Emma could not (for whatever reason). I look forward to the day when new scripture will be written by women.

J. Stapley said...

I think that your connecting her early appellation as an "elect lady" with the 1843 temple rites isn't particularly justified. Especially since you try to distance her 1842 ordination as RS President from the revelations pronouncement that she be ordained.

Ami said...

There are a lot of things I wonder about Emma. I don't know if you could classify my feelings toward her as bitter, but confused and disappointed. It wasn't only plural marriage she denied, but in action she also refused to live the United Order, considering her possessions and a worldly inheritance for her children more important than other considerations.

That she may have been called as a prophetess doesn't seem far fetched to me. That she was patient and helpful towards Joseph is also true. What may also be true is that, if she had embraced plural marriage, she may have had more time to devote to that path God held out for her.

Ellis R. Shipp is one of my heroes, but I doubt she could have been what she was without plural marriage. She was called by the church to be a doctor. I find that really interesting.

When practiced righteously, I can see how women could have been more free to be who they were. Women less talented in 'mothering' wouldn't feel guilty about leaving their child to paid labor who cared little, because it would instead be a beloved sister-wife caring for the children. In the end, I think it was discontinued more because it's practice had become quite corrupt (young girls marrying into old families for prestige) than because of external pressures. The two crises simply coincided.

m&m said...

Are we sure she never expounded or prophesied? If we only have but few of the prophet Joseph's words, and only notes of those at best, I can't help but wonder if we might be missing parts of the history that could tell us for certain whether or not she really fulfilled this role.

I also am not sure that we can say that, if she didn't, it was because she was supporting her husband. Isn't it possible there were other reasons?

Of course, I'm no historian, so maybe I'm just out to lunch, but I'm one who's hesitant to assume that we know the intricacies of someone's motivations and accomplishments when we have relatively little to go on.

Bored in Vernal said...

J--You could very easily convince me. As you know, there are a few different interpretations of "Elect Lady," and this is just the one I like the best!!! But perhaps I'll do a post on it this week with my reasoning. Check back later!

Bored in Vernal said...

Ami, I can relate to the disappointment. No one wants to judge Emma, but there were several other women who went through many of the same challenges and still found it in them to cross the plains with the Saints. I agree that polygamy may have been a blessing to her had she been able to accept it.

M&M, Emma did prophesy, but only among a small group of sisters. Since we have many contemporary journals, and since Emma was the wife of the Prophet and quite a public figure, and given that it would have been somewhat unusual, it is quite likely that she never fulfilled this part of the blessing. Of course, we can always skate around the meaning of exhorting and expounding the Church, but let's not.

There could have been many reasons she was not able to do these things. Would you like to suggest some?

Anonymous said...

This is a great blog! I don't think I've given enough thought to Emma and all she went through. I already believe she was an amazing woman, but I never gave real thought to all her life entailed. I would definetly love to read more about her.

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m&m said...

Of course, we can always skate around the meaning of exhorting and expounding the Church, but let's not.

Hm. Personally, I'd rather be able to keep different possible options in mind for what this could have meant, if indeed she didn't fulfill the blessing in one sense that you are seeing. (How many times do blessings come to fruition in different ways than what we expect?)

There could have been many reasons she was not able to do these things. Would you like to suggest some?

Sure. :)

I read the section last nite, and saw many different exhortations to her...to lay aside things of this world, to beware of pride, to murmur not for what she had not seen, to be faithful and walk in the paths of virtue, to cleave unto her covenants. Any failing in any of these areas could have reduced her mantle and blessing that the Lord may have pronounced upon her. All blessings are conditional, and if a blessing did not come to pass, I just see that there could have been many reasons, spending too much time in one area of her life only being one.

In that vein, I am struck by the last verse, and considering many blessings that have been pronounced in my patriarchal blessing and elsewhere. Am I living up to my potential? Do I languish in any of the areas I listed above? Much to think about....