We know that Emma Hale Smith, after the death of her husband, didn’t follow the “Brighamites” to Utah, but joined her son’s church (the Reorganized LDS Church, now Community of Christ). So why is she so honored by the Church and its members? Actually, she was kind of an apostate, wasn’t she?
First of all I think we need to understand why Emma did not join the Saints in their westward trek with Brigham Young.
After the Prophet’s death she made it her priority to preserve the inheritance for her five living children. It was difficult to distinguish what was Joseph’s personal property and what belonged to the Church. There was much dissention over this between Emma and Brigham Young which resulted in bitter legal battles. Since an amicable agreement could not be reached she chose to remain in Nauvoo with her family.
She also was unable to condone the practice of plural marriage. Even while married to Joseph she struggled between her faith in her husband’s prophetic role and her aversion to a principle that he, as prophet, had been instructed to institute.
In addition there was the fear of leaving the known for the unknown without the support of her beloved husband Joseph.
For many years she was publicly criticized by church leaders for not remaining faithful to her husband’s mission.
Now let’s look at the woman Emma really was.
She was the wife of the man who restored the gospel in these latter days. The amount of hardship and persecution she must have endured is hard to even comprehend. Even the day of her baptism was marred by terror. Before she could even be confirmed, Joseph was arrested and tried though later released. It would be 2 months before she could be confirmed as a member of the Church.
In July 1830, Joseph Smith received a revelation addressed specifically to Emma. In that revelation she was designed the “Elect Lady” which Joseph later explained means one elected “to preside.” She was told that her calling was to be a support and comfort to her husband, to continue to act as his scribe, and “to expound scriptures and to exhort the church.” She was also commissioned to prepare a hymnal for the Church.
Throughout her life with Joseph, she had to endure moving numerous times, she lost babies (one due to exposure because of mob violence) and she saw her Joseph tarred and feathered. She later also endured her own husband being martyred.
Yet through it all she worked tirelessly and with selfless thought to herself in assisting the Saints and her husband in his calling as the new prophet of the restored church.
She was the first woman to receive her endowments and the first Relief Society President.
During her marriage to Joseph she became extremely close to her mother in law Lucy Mack Smith. Even after the death of Joseph, she cared for her mother in law until her death in 1856. Lucy Mack Smith had this to say about Emma:
“I have never seen a woman in my life, who would endure every species of fatigue and hardship, from month to month, and from year to year, with that unflinching courage, zeal, and patience, which she has ever done”
So while many would condemn her for the decisions she made after her husband’s martyrdom, we must never forget the woman that Emma was during the years that she was married to Joseph Smith. She was indeed an “Elect Lady.”