Daily Archives: 7 April 2012

Sally Hemings and the Gods Themselves

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Mit der Dummheit kämpfen Götter selbst vergebens

[Against stupidity the gods themselves contend in vain]

—     Friedrich Schiller, The Maid of Orléans

The vicarious temple ordinances performed by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (the “Mormons”) are back in the news.  This time, it is because someone has reportedly sealed Sally Hemings to Thomas Jefferson. (Hemings was a slave owned by Jefferson.  She bore children that have Jefferson DNA.  [1])

As usually happens with such things, the media and the blogosphere are a-bubble.  Some are well-intentioned expressions of concern, others are ill-informed, and some seem to just want to pile on and make the Church look bad, or use this as an opportunity to push their own reforming agenda on the Church.

The unspoken assumption seems to be that the Church can be “shamed” or at least “public-pressured” into “doing the right thing.”  In this case, the right thing would presumably be not performing vicarious sealing of slaves to former masters.  (The more hostile want temple work vastly curtailed or stopped altogether, but we’ll leave them to one side—it isn’t going to happen.)

This is not, however, simply one more case of “Mormon institutional insensitivity” to go with performing temple rites for Holocaust victims (despite what some have suggested).  LDS policy forbids performing Holocaust victims’ temple rites.  The people who did so had to circumvent fairly significant warnings and technological obstacles to do so.  (Those obstacles have since been increased even further.)

Likewise, it has never been LDS policy to seek out female slaves and seal them to their former masters and/or rapists.

Now, I wholeheartedly endorse the idea of not sealing slaves to masters.  The idea is obscene.  I don’t know any sensible person that would endorse it.  And that, unfortunately, is precisely the problem—I said sensible person.

Let me explain.

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