More proxy Mormon rites: Jefferson and Hemings?

Trigger Warning: Rape

Like proxy baptisms, Mormons also perform proxy “sealings” – what most people would call a wedding or handfasting. It turns out that plenty of historical figures have had this rite performed for them, including Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemmings.

An article at Slate points out

The nature of the Hemings-Jefferson relationship has been one of considerable historical debate. Could love actually pass between the most influential man in America and a mixed-race slave he owned? Could Hemings genuinely consent to Jefferson’s sexual advances? Could she really say no? Because slaves were denied control over their bodies, what went on between Hemings and Jefferson—and, of course, countless other slave masters and slaves in antebellum America—is rightly regarded by most as abusive. Perhaps on rare occasions these sexual acts involved true mutual intimacy; but because of the inherent power dynamic, today we’d consider this sex forced. We’d call it rape.

Sealing a slave master to his slave is at least as troubling as the baptism of Holocaust victims, the practice of which the LDS Church has officially condemned.

I’ve been raped by an intimate partner. I’ve been through the murky confluence of consent and coercion, not as badly as a slave, obviously, but badly enough that I can say this is reprehensible. Consent belongs to each person, and each person alone. This isn’t just like rape apology, this is rape apology.

And I’ve heard the explanations: this is an act of love, it’s not binding unless the souls involved want it to be so, etc, etc, etc. To which Joanna Brooks has a pretty good reply:

But one element that has consistently gone missing from conversations I’ve witnessed in LDS circles is the acknowledgment that other religious traditions also have theological views of memory, the afterlife, and the connection between the dead and the living. From these non-Mormon perspectives, Mormon posthumous rites appear as a presumptuous claim on humanity’s dead.

The Slate article also has an example of a proxy baptism rite that I would have no problem with: two young Mormon men died before being baptised, so they were baptized posthumously by proxy. Fine; we have good evidence that this was what they wanted while they were alive. I’m glad it was a healing experience for the families involved.

But no one, NO ONE, gets to tell me who I’m linked to for all eternity. When done that way, it’s not an act of love. There is no way that Mormons can in good conscience refuse to acknowledge that others have different views of the afterlife and that acting as though they have a lock on both metaphysics and sexual consent is disrespectful to everyone who disagrees – dead and alive.

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About Literata

Literata is a Wiccan priestess and writer. She edited Crossing the River: An Anthology in Honor of Sacred Journeys, and her poetry, rituals, and nonfiction have appeared in works such as Mandragora, Unto Herself, and Anointed as well as multiple periodicals. Literata has presented rituals and workshops at Sacred Space conference, Fertile Ground Gathering, and other mid-Atlantic venues. Literata offers healing and divination services as well as customized life-cycle rituals. She is currently completing her doctoral dissertation in history with the support of her husband and four cats.
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