Sunday, June 1, 2014
Emma Hale Smith Bidamon - wife #1
The relationship between Joseph Smith and his first wife Emma Hale was a complicated one. They went through a lot together and must have shared an extremely tight bond. Their life together started with an elopement that sent Emma's father Isaac into a rage. They faced three infant deaths in their first years together. Emma gave birth to twins who died shortly after birth. She and Joseph then adopted a neighbor's twins, Joseph and Julia, whose mother had died in childbirth (Joseph died a year later). They eventually had four more sons - Joseph, Frederick, Alexander, and Don Carlos - who all survived infancy and childhood. Emma helped transcribe The Book of Mormon, she watched Joseph build and lead the church, she sat helplessly by as Joseph fled mobs and the law, and she deeply mourned his assassination.
I'm very sympathetic toward Emma and I think there is a lot about her to celebrate. She was extremely loyal and was full of conviction. She weathered hard times thanks to her strong frontier attitude of determination, the same determination the Church loves to credit the early pioneers with. I can understand why the Church and its members paint a picture of Emma as being tirelessly rosy and totally admirable. It's easy to see Emma as an unwavering pillar of the early Church. The thing is there's a lot more beneath the surface that make her a tough nut to crack. Here are a few points that come to mind.
Speaking of the day she eloped with Joseph she says that she had no intention of marrying him, but he was more of a catch than any of the other men she knew. It sounds to me like Joseph talked her into it, just as he would talk other women into marrying him later on. I have a hard time seeing their marriage as an equal partnership, instead it looks like Emma might have been just another victim of Joseph's suave tongue.
Another reason I see Emma as a potential victim comes from the fact that she was kept in the dark about his various liaisons with other women. Nowadays we call what Joseph did marital infidelity or cheating. Emma was cheated on again and again and yet she stuck by his side just as you would expect someone who is manipulated and emotionally abused to do.
When Emma refused to accept Joseph's secret polygamy, Joseph came back with a supposed revelation from God warning her that she would be destroyed if she didn't change her mind. That's some fucked up shit right there, friends. I take my hat off to her for calling bullshit on that revelation and throwing it in the fire.
And here's a hell of an issue: Emma defied Brigham Young as the new prophet, stayed in Nauvoo, and got her son Joseph to start the Reformed Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (today called the Community of Christ). Why would such a righteous, spiritual woman make such a damning move? Why didn't the Spirit direct her under Brigham's wing and into The One True Church? Should the Church today celebrate her as it does, or should it go back to maligning her character and excluding her from Church history?
Emma married Lewis Bidamon in 1849 and stayed with him until her death. She never again acknowledged that Joseph had practiced polygamy and that she herself had been dragged temporarily into the practice.