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Emma Smith, My Story Removes False Traditions

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The dedicatory prayer of the Kirtland temple recorded in Doctrine and Covenants 109:68-70 mentions in order for the posterity of Joseph and Emma to be “converted and redeemed with Israel, and know that thou art God” prejudices need to “be broken up and swept away as with a flood.” Since we are responsible for the gathering of the Smith posterity, the removal of these prejudices is something we worked toward in many ways. One of these ways was mentioned in a previous article written by my wife, Darcy Kennedy, and Mary Ellen Elgren, the President of the Brigham Young Family Organization. They discussed our efforts to “Bridge a Rift of False Tradition” through a letter written by the Brigham Young family now called the “Healing Document.” The Brigham Young family was invited to participate with the Joseph Smith Jr family during our Joseph Smith family reunion in 2007 and help create an effort of healing. What resulted was that healing or removal of prejudices happened not only in the hearts and minds of the descendants of Joseph and Emma but many of the descendants of pioneer families as well as Latter day Saints across the world.

These prejudices not only existed within the posterity of Joseph and Emma but outside as well. This scriptural verse is not referring to just Joseph’s family but to all who hold prejudices. Poor communications, (either faulted by men or not) lack of faith, other events and actions caused these prejudices. One of the objectives of the Joseph Smith Jr and Emma Hale Historical Society (JSEHS) is to help correct these errors. The Emma Smith My Story film was a big part of that effort and in conjunction with the “Healing Document” it was by no means a coincidence that both happened relatively at the same time although we did not plan it that way. It is a testament that the Lord is directing these efforts. Additionally, it was no coincidence the film produced by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints about the life of Joseph Smith, Joseph Smith, Prophet of the Restoration, showing in visitor centers across the world was released in 2005. This all came together not just directly by the efforts of the JSEHS, neither the Church, but by the Lord. It is a confirmation to me how the Lord choreographs events to bring about His purposes and fulfills His promises.

During the years we raised our children, Darcy and I witnessed several times in our various Church meetings negative remarks about Emma. I heard them while attending Ricks College and Brigham Young University Religion classes as well. Even after the Emma movie was released I read negative comments making it very evident to me the reality of persistent false traditions, or prejudices about her. I heard similar stories expressed to me by Gracia Jones, our historian, as she was raising her family. Later, we learned these experiences were not unique to us. Unfortunately, I have witnessed how these false traditions created prejudices which impacted testimonies of Latter-day Saints or prevented investigators from learning further the gospel of Jesus Christ. Joseph Smith did not restore the gospel alone, there were so many who sacrificed so much for the restoration of the gospel. I just could not help feeling the concern of those who gave up their way of life, let alone their very lives, now looking upon their posterity making conclusions and choices in their lives based on inaccurate information. Satan’s primary tool is to confuse truth and prejudice the mind from listening to the truth when presented. Satan had his opportunity to destroy our chance for an eternal life with our Heavenly Parents and the families we have formed here on earth until Jesus Christ atoned for our sins. After that great sacred event Satan failed. The only effort Satan can now do is confuse truth to each of us individually, to deceive us from taking advantage of the truth when we hear it and more particularly cloud our minds from even wanting to hear it. I see why Jesus Christ requests us to live by faith. We are literally asked to trust more than just the information presented to us, we are to trust Him; nevertheless we need a foundation. That foundation was presented to us by Joseph Smith who restored not only the fullness of understanding of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, but gave us leaders authorized by the Lord that we can trust who continually guide us.

Years ago, just before I became acquainted with the LDS Church, I was given family historical records. The information contained in them had some differing information than some of these prejudiced family conversations. After my baptism, I went on a quest and contacted cousins who also had family records. I also sought out records from the LDS Church as well as the Community of Christ and together they gave a more accurate explanation of events than some traditions passed down from one generation to the next. I felt it was time that the family of Joseph Smith declared to the world that Joseph Smith indeed was a Prophet of God; he did see and converse with God the Father and his only begotten son, Jesus Christ. Joseph Smith was tasked by the Lord to bring about his gospel that was originally presented to Adam and Eve and all the prophets since then. My great-great-great grandfather, Joseph Smith delivered their message without all the confusion that Satan employs to discredit what Jesus Christ did for us. He left us authorized leaders who have and continue to expand our knowledge of the Father, his Son and our relationship to them with full understanding of our purpose in this life.

Those of us who have accepted Joseph’s testimony have learned all mankind would one day stand before the Lord to be accountable for their life on earth with full realization of the potentials we have in the coming lives ahead of us. It has amazed me that some individuals, even knowing they would one day stand before the head of our dispensation, the Prophet Joseph Smith, would make negative comments about his wife. I feel sometime in the future there are going to be some rather awkward moments, at the least, for some of those individuals.

There is no other person, excluding Joseph Smith, more involved in the restoration of the fullness of the Gospel than Emma. She herself testified that she was an active participant when revelation was received, scripture documented, ordinances administered, and acknowledged they “were of divine authenticity.” Joseph could not have received the fullness of the priesthood without Emma. Thus, the testimony of Emma needs to be told and especially from her children.

So how did Emma Smith, My Story film come about: It was the result of several things. The film, “Joseph Smith: The Prophet of the Restoration”, produced by the LDS Church, was released on a date in order to meet the Church’s 2005 bicentennial celebration of Joseph’s birthday. The descendants who came to Salt Lake to attend this birthday celebration were able to see the opening release of this film. In addition to viewing this film there were other activities and venues where we testified of Joseph Smith. We shared his story and our efforts in regard to the DNA research of Joseph and Emma’s family with all who gathered. All 100% attending unanimously agreed they wanted the efforts of the JSEHS to continue. They wanted to hear more. With boosted confidence we decided to next tell Emma’s story. It appeared almost an impossible task as the resources of the JSEHS were extremely limited. Nevertheless, I commented to our committee that I knew it was the will of the Lord that not only the next family gathering center around Emma’s story, but that we also needed to produce a movie. I am a computer geek and neither I nor anyone else in our small group had any experience of any kind in the film industry and this seemed to be just a pipe dream, but we all had hope and faith on the impression I received.

Looking towards our next family gathering in 2007, we wanted to begin removing prejudices about Emma. We had journals given to us from my great-grandmother, Emma Belle Smith Kennedy; we had the extensive knowledge of Gracia Jones, our historian; we had faith, and not much of anything else. I asked Darcy and Gracia to research further, use our sources and work with both the LDS Church and the Community of Christ Church and any academics to learn the original roots of where things went wrong between the relationship of Emma and Brigham Young. Our goal was to also address the prejudices of the Brighamites and Josephites, by tracing it to its roots. We learned no one has any documentation where there is any face to face confrontation; furthermore, we learned Brigham Young was one of the few who never betrayed Joseph. Emma knew this and loved him for it, but events and feelings did turn so what happened? Obviously, we needed to find out what happened and not depend on the interpretations of so many authors whose judgment became clouded by the prejudices of the day. Our DNA research, the legal battles we discovered Emma went through, the trials and persecution Emma’s children and grandchildren suffered as they attended school and other public events, financial troubles, and most seriously, the Latter-day Saints who betrayed Emma and Brigham Young showed a different view of perceived historical events. It is with all of these materials that I felt confident to approach the Brigham Young Family organization to participate with us in the upcoming 2007 Joseph Smith Family Gathering in Nauvoo knowing with equal confidence that it was also the will of the Lord.

It was no coincidence that during these preparations and just prior to the reunion where we would be emphasizing Emma and her testimony of the Gospel that I received a phone call from Gary Cook, director of the recent film the Church produced, Joseph Smith, Prophet of the Restoration with whom we’ve had no previous contact or relationship. Gary informed me that after completing the film and editing of this movie for the Church they had 20 minutes of film unused which was mostly on Emma and wanted to know if we could make use of it.

Here is Gary’s point of view (interview by my daughter Angeline Washburn):

I wrote and directed the Joseph film, Joseph, the Prophet of the Restoration. Elder Scott was the advisor on the film, and we at one point thought that we might be able to have a 90 minute film in the Legacy theatre, so he said, “well, shoot as much as you can for that purpose and get good footage”, and when we were done, it turned out it was about the normal length.

So we had a lot of footage left over, and of course, always in the back of my mind I was thinking there has to be a way we could use that. I have subscribed to this Scottish theory of life “use it up or wear it out” or something, don’t waste it. And so, anyway, about that time it was the commemorative broadcast for Joseph’s 200th birthday, and I remember President Packer gave the opening prayer, and it was more like a talk than a prayer [link]. It was just amazing, and he started to talk about Emma, which I never heard happen before in a meeting like that, and he basically prayed that the Lord would bless us that we would get a more exalted view on Emma. I think he said that, “her memory would be blessed” was the exact phrase, and that her descendants would be touched in some way.

As he said that I had this sort of an “electrical”, (that’s the best way to describe it) this kind of “aha”, and I thought, that resource I have could be useful in some way to help. Over the next year and a half I kind of tweaked here and there with possibilities on how to put it together, but what I really needed was a client, a request to do it. It was 6 months before I actually met Mike Kennedy, I called him and explained who I was and said, “If you ever have use for footage like this let me know because there is some available.” And he never called me back, and so I checked back in late February in 2007 and I was just touching base, he said, “Well, why don’t you come to our meeting, we are having our committee meeting in March.”

So I thought I would just introduce myself, and I did. I met Gracia Jones, Darcy Kennedy and others. And then as we were sitting there talking. I showed them my little mock of what I wanted to do. It was magic; your mother was just alive. She is a spark plug anyway, she just glowed, and Gracia was the same way and it felt like in that instant this was supposed to happen, it all made sense, like the planets aligned and I think we all knew that and I knew this was going to happen. The way was going be opened and we had somebody that had contacted us and asked permission. …I had a thought or insight shared to me by one of the Brethren that said revelations is scattered among us, and he interpreted that to mean that we all do our little part, play what we are supposed to do, and at some point it all comes together at the right time and at the right place and its whole and it works and its right and you know it.

We were all thrilled and excited and felt the weight of all the challenges to accomplish this effort but having a firm belief that the Lord would not ask us to do anything unless a way was prepared for us to accomplish it we set forth and began the effort. This is what faith is, making the effort doing what you believe.

With all the material we gathered for the historical portions of our story we knew we had too much for a two hour film. So we decided we would break into two pieces. The first part told the story of young Emma to her first meeting with Joseph and their romance, developing her own testimony, enduring the trials and privations she went through not just because of her love towards Joseph, but because she had developed her own testimony of what he represented. She gave her all to help her husband to bring about the restoration, at the sacrifice of her family and eventually losing her husband. We wanted our audience to know Emma. To feel her compassion, her testimony, and her love.

The second part will be a second film currently under development which will dive into more of the controversial issues and tell the remainder of her story. Joseph could not have had the fullness of the priesthood without Emma. Those who doubt this do not have faith in the power of the Atonement.

Emma Smith, My Story is now out on DVD and re-mastered in over a half dozen languages distributed in several countries including China. Copies have been distributed to all the descendants of Joseph and Emma many having joined our faith since. The film is also being used by other religions and organizations that are learning about the restoration through the eyes of this woman. If you wish to purchase directly from us Click Here.

Below are thoughts gathered by my daughter Angeline from the cast of Emma Smith, My Story:

Patricia Place (Emma Smith Bidaman): “I felt honored, and I feel like she did get inside of me, reading the letters she wrote, and how her life went. I think she is a real beautiful, strong woman. And I feel very close to her no. …I am not a Mormon, I have not spent much time around Mormons, but the time I have was a good experience, and it was just like, “Are they like this because of their religion, or did they choose this religion because they are like this?” Because I never saw so much love and cooperation and real strength, it’s like walking into an ideal world. There was no backbiting, no quarrels, and none of those things because were all even.” [NOTE: Patricia has since passed away, but following the production, she attended several premiers with us and at her request toured various LDS visitor centers and at the time of her passing she was taking the missionary discussions.)

Tayva Patch (Lucy Mack Smith): I would do anything for Joseph and Emma; I’m sure those I worked with felt the same way. This film gave us, in some measure, an opportunity to do something for their family…” “I do remember a particular day on set; the day we filmed Alvin’s death. The subject was so heartbreaking…. I felt that the family we were portraying was aware of what we were doing; you just felt this sorrow as we were working through the scenes. You can’t sustain any emotion for an indefinite amount of time; you have to come up for air, even in real life when it’s your own emotion. But, I wanted to be willing to be sad for Lucy’s sake – I wanted to be able to hold the weight of that grief for her. We had done the first of the scene and they stopped to move the camera. I was thinking: will I need to start over, will I be able to start over, and will I be able to pick up where I left off? …It’s natural to want to relax and talk to each other. But I remembered just pleading within myself, “Lucy, don’t leave me. Please don’t leave me.” I never heard a voice, but felt her answer, “I am right here, I’m not going anywhere, I’m right here.”

Rick Macy (Joseph Smith Sr.): [NOTE: Just before we began shooting the film we held a fireside for the cast and crew] As I was listening to Mike Kennedy and Sister Jones, ‘Why was it that I have been chosen to have this type of relationship … for this wonderful family?’ …So as I sat and listened to the fireside, and thinking wow, being in connection with this wonderful family and this great work with the actors and the cast. That’s everything to have that connection with everyone. We know each other very well. We represent a family of our own. There was no getting to know each other or trying to be comfortable having the faith everything would go well, we just knew it would. Then Gary spoke, “you’re partaking of the Sacrament for the first time under priesthood authority in nearly 2000 years. I took the atonement seriously that I had been forgiven of my sins and remembered by baptismal covenants. I felt very close to Father Smith at that moment, not only that he was more than proud but he had a testimony that his son was a prophet and the priesthood that he bore. I didn’t take that for granted, it was a very historical and spiritual moment, and the priesthood was on the earth again.

Katherine Nelson (Emma Hale Smith): It was different as an audience member sitting and watching this film because I relied so heavily upon Nate throughout the Joseph film, and as the character of Emma I relied so heavily upon Joseph to be lead of the film and let him take the scenes. And yet, with this experience, especially watching it, you get the back door open, and you see this is the wife, she’s in the kitchen, and she’s doing the work. It’s very different than any church members have seen before because it’s the first time we’re doing a film based on the wife of the prophet, which is an incredible human point of view that people need to see, and I think it opens the prophet’s life up so much more, and it also creates the family feel that people lack when it comes to learning about the prophet because they don’t get to see all the inner workings and struggles.

Nathan Mitchell (Joseph Smith Jr): You know each scene is going to be the most beautiful miracle or heart wrenching travesty, and that’s kind of how their life was. If you think about the compression of time that Joseph and Emma spent together and the things they were able to accomplish together, it’s amazing.

Cheryl Kirby (Lydia): …this is the most important thing in the world to Joseph and Emma; they want their family unified, they want them all in the gospel. To have a family divided; I have a family and I know that if for any reason they were divided it would break my heart. The most important thing to any mother or father is to make sure that nothing ever comes between your family, nothing. So it’s great if this is the mechanism that reaches out to all of them and brings them back into the fold, and brings them back into understanding of how loved Emma was, and how much love was between Emma and Joseph.

Dallyn Bayles (Hyrum Smith): …the film was definitely made and has a great focus, especially at the very end, bring in the whole element of the family of Joseph and Emma and how even when they were separated early on in their lives, their family continues on, beyond death. I know they are very concerned about their posterity today, and so it’s wonderful to be able to have this film to show all the descendants so that we can all rejoice in the heritage that they all have of these amazing people. I think it’s thrilling, and I hope it catches the vision of what wonderful people they were and how much I think they believed in, and how much they wanted for their family and their descendants.

Stephanie Breinholt (Julia Murdock Smith): What hit me the most was interacting with Emma, just thinking about them and their relationship! I think what hit me the most was the story, when she took in Charlie.

What comments have people made about the Emma film?

I thought I was aware of [Emma’s] suffering and sacrifice…boy was I wrong! There was so much in the movie that I did not know. Now I find her even more amazing than ever. If in the world we could all have a little more Emma in us…oh the world it would be! –Melody

The theater was quite full (even in the middle of the day) and everyone remained silent until the very end of the credits. No one moved, no one spoke. We all just sat there, still in awe at what we had seen. It was like no one wanted to break the spell. And even when people did leave, they left reverently, speaking only in whispers. –Stephanie

I attended the premier of the Emma Smith Story [with] several of my children and grandchildren…. My 11 year old granddaughter who is not baptized into the LDS Church wanted a poster after which we obtained and she visited with the actors and actresses. –Anonymous

A member of the High Council [said] all he had ever known about Emma was that she didn’t come west and the negativity surrounding that event. He said he now sees Emma as a pillar of strength and support to the prophet, that she was a wonderful woman. –Lee

I am writing to ask permission to please show a few parts of [the Emma film] to our ward Relief Society sisters. There is such a spirit about the movie that I feel the sisters will come to know and understand Emma as never before. This movie testifies again and again of Emma’s gifts and goodness. It is a powerful teacher. –Anonymous

As I was watching my heart turned to the trials I have faced in my life, and I was humbled to remember those who gave so much more than I have ever been asked to give. I have such gratitude for the early members of the church. I feel inspired to be so much better. –Anonymous

Maybe you could carry on in a second movie and set it straight about her true feelings of why she did not go [west]. Our whole Relief Society is abuzz. –Anonymous

Tom and Sue Robinson (3rd great grandson of Joseph Smith and not a member of the LDS Church): Emma was history to us until the movie made her a real person. We knew very little about Mormons. Seeing the movie made us understand and feel compassion for the Mormons and how they were persecuted everywhere they settled.

Have all the false traditions been removed, no; but we have gone far enough that we have open ears and willing hearts. A lethal blow has been given to the confusion Satan enjoys to instill and now we can tell the rest of Emma’s story. Now for the second part of the Emma story. Stay tuned.