The Fate of Emma Smith


By Loyal to the Word


         Emma Smith, the famous wife of the Prophet Joseph Smith, is a well known character in Church history. One thing she is famous for is a phrase in an 1831 revelation in the Doctrine & Covenants in which she is declared to be “an elect lady” and her sins were forgiven (D&C 25:3). Many members of the Church take from this, and the mere fact that she was the Prophet’s wife, that Emma is secured a place in the Celestial kingdom. Can this really be so, considering the turn that Emma’s life took shortly after the death of her husband? This paper will briefly examine the life of Emma Smith after the death of Joseph and the requirements of salvation in the Celestial kingdom.


The Life of Emma Smith after Joseph’s Death


         Before the death of Joseph troubles were brewing for the Smith family. Emma’s hatred for plural marriage caused her to confide her feelings with the dissenter and future apostate and persecutor, William Law. Emma came under the influence of Law, and William Clayton observed that “Law & Emma [had been] in opposition to Joseph & the quorum” (William Law, Nauvoo Dissenter, Lyndon W. Cook, BYU Studies, vol. 22 (1982), #1 - Fall 1982). She was abusing her role as President of the Relief Society to “promote opposition to plural marriage” among its members (BYU Studies, vol. 36 (1996-97), #1--1996-97). Shortly before Joseph was escorted to Carthage jail where he would be killed, he, knowing that he would die, asked Emma to “train up my sons to walk in their father’s footsteps.” Emma never agreed to it and only kept brushing the request aside (Richard N. Skousen, Brother Joseph, vol. 2, p. 912).

         Shortly after the death of Joseph, Emma began to exhibit a rebellious attitude towards Brigham Young and the Council of the Twelve. “Even though Brigham Young and the other Apostles helped Emma financially after Joseph’s death and tried to appease her in all of her demands, she obstinately refused to follow their counsel” (ibid., p. 913). Though entreated by the Twelve to be taken safely across the plains as the widow of the Prophet and a priority, she refused. Though she had officiated for women when Joseph first introduced the endowment, after his death she refused to participate in helping the saints receive their endowments in the Nauvoo temple (Encyclopedia of Mormonism, p. 1325). She deepened in her animosity for the doctrine of plural marriage and throughout her life denied that Joseph had ever taught it, lying to her children and all others regarding the issue (Emma Smith: An Elect Lady, Susan Easton Black, p. 74-75). She outright lied to her children about the truth of plural marriage. Her resentment and creeping apostasy had turned her into an embittered liar and adversary to the truth.

         In 1847, Emma married Major Lewis Bidamon, a stranger with a “questionable” reputation (Richard N. Skousen, Brother Joseph, vol. 2, p. 913). Her new husband Lewis was not a member of the Church, and did not belong to any particular church (Lewis C. Bidamon, Stepchild of Mormondom, Avery and Newell, BYU Studies, vol. 19 (1978-1979), #3 - Spring 1979, 375). Lewis Bidamon’s opinion of Joseph Smith was that he thought “that Joseph was honest but might have been deceived” (ibid). As for herself, Emma actually left the Church and joined a Methodist congregation, effectively cutting off all ties and covenants she had with the true Church (The Mormon Succession Crisis of 1844, Quinn, BYU Studies, vol. 16 (1975-1976), #1 - Autumn 1975, 230). In April 6, 1860, Emma joined the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, aligning herself with a false church for the second time (Emma Smith: An Elect Lady, Susan Easton Black, p. 12). She died a member of that church (ibid, p. 71). She always carried a resentment for the true Church. Orson Pratt observed,



“That same woman [Emma] has brought up her children to believe that no such thing as plurality of wives existed in the days of Joseph, and has instilled the bitterest principles of apostasy into their minds, to fight against the Church that has come to these mountains according to the predictions of Joseph….The course pursued by this woman shows what apostates can do, and how wicked they can become in their hearts. When they apostatize from the truth they can come out and swear before God and the heavens that such and such things never existed, when they know, as well as they know they exist themselves, that they are swearing falsely.”

(Journal of Discourses 13:194).


         All of Emma’s children were raised outside of the Church and subsequently left it. Emma said, “I have always avoided talking to my children about having anything to do in the church, for I have suffered so much I have dreaded to have them take any part in it.” (As quoted in Susan Easton Black, Who's Who in the Doctrine and Covenants, p. 275). The surviving adopted daughter of the Murdock twins converted to Catholicism thanks to Emma’s lack of spiritual guidance (Emma Smith: An Elect Lady, Susan Easton Black, p. 72). And of Course, Joseph Smith III, the namesake and son of the Prophet Joseph, was made the head of the false “Reorganized” church in 1860, a church which systematically rejected much of Joseph’s teachings. Two of the three of Emma’s remaining sons, Alexander Hale and David Hyrum Smith, also took up careers as leaders in the Reorganized movement (ibid). Because of Emma’s influence, all of her family went astray after Joseph’s passing, and she remained defiant and bitter against the truth. 





 Emma Smith Later in Life 



The Hardships of Emma Smith


            When defenders of Emma argue for her Celestial eligibility, they seem to always say, “But look at how much she suffered,” suggesting that, since her trials were great then she is off the hook if she dealt with them poorly. Excuses are readily made for her as to why she did not go West with the Saints (usually involving her young children). But God has said of trials, “if thou endure it well, God shall exalt thee on high” (D&C 121:8, emphasis added). Note that he did not say, “If you have bitter resentment for the Church leaders, marry an apathetic nonmember, leave the Church, lie about its doctrine and never repent to your dying day, God shall exalt thee on high.” Yet some people would like to pretend that such can be the case, especially when discussing Emma. Joseph Smith taught, “Those who cannot endure persecution, and stand in the day of affliction, cannot stand in the day when the Son of God shall burst the veil, and appear in all the glory of His Father, with all the holy angels” (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 42).

            Whenever the idea of “look at how much Emma suffered” is given in her defense, I am reminded of her sister-in-law Mary Fielding Smith, who was Hyrum’s wife. Was not she also the recipient of persecution? And was she not in the exact same circumstance that Emma was in when both Joseph and Hyrum were martyred? Daniel H. Ludlow, respected gospel scholar, had these words to say about both the similarities and contrast between these two women:


                                 Mary Fielding Smith became the second wife of Hyrum Smith after his first wife died and left him a widower
                                 with five little children. Within seven years, when Hyrum was killed with the Prophet, she herself was left
                                 a widow with a small family of her own, including the earlier family of Hyrum's which had become her own. A
                                 few years later when the Saints fled from Nauvoo, Mary Fielding Smith was faced with the same problem as
                                 that of her sister-in-law, Emma Hale Smith, the widow of the Prophet. What should they do? Should they stay
                                 in their relatively fine homes in Nauvoo and let the main body of the Church leave them? Or should they 
                                 leave their homes and endure the hardships of the long trek westward? Emma Smith decided to stay; Mary
                                 Fielding Smith decided to leave with the Saints. The trip was not easy, and the young widow and her family
                                 endured many hardships; but these hardships helped to forge some strong men and women. After they were
                                 finally settled in the Great Basin, the hardships did not stop.…At fifteen [Mary’s son, Joseph F. Smith] was
                                 sent on a mission; in his early twenties he was ordained an apostle and later he became president of the
                                 Council of the Twelve Apostles. Finally he became the sixth President of The Church of Jesus Christ of
                                 Latter-day Saints in this dispensation. Because of the decision of Mary Fielding Smith to remain faithful to
                                 the gospel and to leave Nauvoo and to endure the hardships of the trip west, I understand there are now over
                                 400 descendants of Hyrum Smith in the Church, including the present President of the Council of the Twelve
                                 Apostles, Joseph Fielding Smith.
                                 (Dr. Daniel H. Ludlow, BYU Speeches of the Year, November 12, 1963).


         Mary Fielding Smith’s direct descendents include two Presidents of the Church, Joseph F. Smith and Joseph Fielding Smith, as well as apostles like Hyrum M. Smith and M. Russell Ballard. Emma’s descendents, on the other hand, have grown up outside of the Church because of her unwillingness to teach her children the gospel. What a contrast! Two women in similar situations, one noble and the other unfaithful. Shall they receive the same reward, with such a great difference in their works? There can be no doubt that Emma will be held accountable in part for the unbelief of her posterity. “And again, inasmuch as parents have children in Zion, or in any of her stakes which are organized, that teach them not to understand the doctrine of repentance, faith in Christ the Son of the living God, and of baptism and the gift of the Holy Ghost by the laying on of hands, when the child is eight years old, the sin be upon the head of the parents” (D&C 68:25).






Mary Fielding Smith, mother of faithful descendents 


Enduring to the End

And we know that all men must...endure in faith on his name to the end, or they cannot be saved in the kingdom of God.

                                                                                                                                                                       -Doctrine & Covenants 20:29 


         Many have erroneously taken the phrase “thou art an elect lady, whom I have called” (D&C 25:3) to apply to Emma Smith throughout her whole life. But are we justified in assuming such a thing? The Savior taught that even the elect can be deceived and fall (Matt. 24:24, JS-M 1:22). Bruce R. McConkie concurred with this when he wrote, “Just as it is possible for the very elect to be deceived, and to fall from grace through disobedience, so an elect lady, by failing to endure to the end, can lose her chosen status.” (Bruce R. McConkie, Mormon Doctrine, 2d ed., p. 217). Section 25 of the Doctrine & Covenants itself, where Emma is pronounced an elect lady, contains at the end of it this caution: “Keep my commandments continually, and a crown of righteousness thou shalt receive. And except thou do this, where I am you cannot come” (D&C 25:15, emphasis added). Further, the scriptures give us plain instruction about one of the most critical prerequisites for salvation, namely enduring to the end.

         “Blessed are they who shall seek to bring forth my Zion at that day,” the Lord says of the saints in the latter days, “and if they endure to the end they shall be lifted up at the last day” (1 Ne. 13:37, emphasis added). The reader should note that according to this passage being lifted up, or saved, is conditional. “Yea, the words of my Beloved are true and faithful,” said the Father, and then he continued, “He that endureth to the end, the same shall be saved” (2 Ne. 31:15). “Wherefore you must press forward with a steadfastness in Christ,” testified Nephi, “if ye shall press forward…and endure to the end…Ye shall have eternal life.” He then assured us that, “this is the doctrine of Christ, and the only and true doctrine of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost” (2 Ne. 31:20-21). “Look unto me,” Christ taught in his ministry among the Nephites, “and endure to the end, and ye shall live; for unto him that endureth to the end will I give eternal life” (3 Ne. 15:9). God has also declared that, “I, the Lord, am bound when ye do what I say; but when ye do not what I say, ye have no promise” (D&C 82:10, emphasis added). There is no promise of eternal life to those that have been unfaithful or failed to endure to the end. Indeed, the scriptures declare: “And we know that all men must repent and believe on the name of Jesus Christ, and worship the Father in his name, and endure in faith on his name to the end, or they cannot be saved in the kingdom of God” (D&C 20:29, emphasis added). Again in the Book of Mormon the stipulation is given explicitly: “unless a man shall endure to the end, in following the example of the Son of God, he cannot be saved” (2 Ne. 31:16, emphasis added). There is no scriptural deviation to this emphatic and consistent declaration about enduring to the end. We cannot afford to suppose that a person can gain salvation after rejecting the truth. In this connection, it is significant that God has said:


                                 Behold, this is my doctrine – whosoever repenteth and cometh unto me, the same is my church. Whosoever
                                 declareth more or less than this, the same is not of me, but is against me; therefore he is not of my
                                 church. And now, behold, whosoever is of my church, and endureth of my church to the end, him will I
                                 establish upon my rock, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against them.
                                 (D&C 10:69, emphasis added).


         It is plain as day that Emma Smith did not meet this criteria. She had left the true Church and joined a false one, therefore she did not “endureth of [God’s] church to the end.” She did not “repenteth and cometh unto…my church” since she carried a resentment for the present leaders of the Lord’s kingdom, and raised her children outside of the truth established by her husband.

         The reader will recall that Emma Smith stated, “I have always avoided talking to my children about having anything to do in the church, for I have suffered so much I have dreaded to have them take any part in it.” (As quoted in Susan Easton Black, Who's Who in the Doctrine and Covenants, p. 275). But Jesus said, “Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake...for great is your reward in heaven” (Matt. 5:11-12, emphasis added). It goes without saying, that those who will not endure persecution will not obtain the crown.

         Section 76 of the Doctrine & Covenants declares that those who inherit the Celestial kingdom are those who “are the church of the Firstborn,” (D&C 76:34) meaning they are members of the Church, the same Church which Emma left. To those who insist that Emma will inherit Celestial glory, I ask: How does that work? By what law or principle found in the scriptures can a rebellious person who knew the truth die in their sins and still be saved in the Celestial kingdom? The Lord has said, “For of him unto whom much is given much is required; and he who sins against the greater light shall receive the greater condemnation” (D&C 82:3). No one would dispute that Emma received much in the way of spiritual knowledge, yet many of Emma’s supporters think that when it comes to Emma Smith, where much is given, less is required!

         There is no free pass. There is no footnote in the scriptures that says if you are the Prophet’s wife then you can apostatize and still receive Celestial glory. All must meet this test of mortality to its end. All must endure to the end, or they cannot be saved.


Seeing Joseph at Her Deathbed


            One thing that is often held to Emma’s credit is the account that on her deathbed she saw Joseph coming to her. It should be a point of hesitation to believe Emma Smith’s testimony about seeing Joseph in vision, when she had been lying for years about his involvement in plural marriage. However, at the time of her death, Emma did not even recognize her own children, therefore she was clearly not in her right mind (Emma Smith: An Elect Lady, Susan Easton Black, p. 85). Even if Joseph did in reality appear to her, that fact in and of itself would not be indisputable proof of her acceptance into God’s kingdom.




            Though Emma Smith should be admired and celebrated for her positive contributions to the Church, we should not kid ourselves regarding her ultimate fate. Emma did not stay true to the gospel. She spurned the revelations of God and the teachings of heaven. She raised her children outside of the Church, and consequently the posterity of Joseph Smith are unbelievers. Since no one is exempt from enduring to the end, and Emma clearly did not endure to the end, it follows very simply that she will not inherit Celestial glory. That is all there is to the matter. Indeed, it is dangerous on principle to suggest that corrupt and rebellious people can inherit God’s kingdom. So why make an exception for Emma? To do so makes no sense. A gospel plan which would allow for the salvation of such a rebellious person is not the one that her husband revealed to the world. Upon relating an experience when Emma deliberately tried to destroy a revelation from God regarding plural marriage, President Brigham Young said, “she will be damned as sure as she is a living woman. Joseph used to say that he would have her hereafter, if he had to go to hell for her, and he will have to go to hell for her as sure as he ever gets her.” (Journal of Discourses, 17: 159).[1]


Brigham Young, successor to Joseph Smith, a prophet, seer, and revelator, and personal acquaintance of Emma Smith, declared that she would be damned for her rejection of God's Church and revelations.  


[1] Loyal to the Word NOTE: It should be very plainly understood by all readers that unless a person abides the laws of the Celestial kingdom, they cannot enjoy family relations in the eternities (D&C 132:21-22). Joseph’s comments that he would go to hell to get Emma if he had to were merely an expression of his love for her, not an actual possibility.  


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