The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has taken a lot of flack over the years regarding the practice of baptizing deceased individuals who were never Mormon. A fascinating new article from Max Perry Mueller in Slate breaks down some of the misconceptions about this practice, while also confirming some of its more controversial details.
But the most interesting bit of news to emerge here is that not only was American Founding Father and third president of the United States President Thomas Jefferson given a posthumous Mormon baptism, but he was also sealed to former house servant and lover Sally Hemings. The Mormon ritual of sealing is meant to connect spouses and their families in the afterlife.
"The Mormon People" author Matt Bowman explains to Slate, "Mormons believe that heaven consists of a great network of families bound together through a particular sacramental ritual called sealing. Parents are sealed to children, spouses to each other, ancestors to descendants."
Mormons did not perform the baptism of the dead on Hemings until April 1991—13 years after the church lifted its membership ban on African-Americans.
A number of famous individuals, and millions of ordinary people, have been given posthumous Mormon baptisms without the permission of their surviving relatives. Some of the more famous recipients include Elvis Presley, Adolf Hitler, Anne Frank and Pope John Paul II. Shortly after Barack Obama won the Democratic nomination for president in 2008, his own deceased mother, Ann Dunham, received a Mormon baptism, according to Business Insider. However, the church did denounce Dunham's baptism, as it was performed by an individual not directly connected to her family line. The church as stipulated that only direct descendants may perform the baptism.
Mueller notes that this ritual does not technically make the deceased person a Mormon. Rather, it gives Hemings and other deceased individuals, "the opportunity to obtain salvation." In Mormon belief, those who receive the posthumous baptism are then allowed to choose whether they accept the invitation. Mueller also goes into further detail about the politics surrounding the process of proxy baptisms and how the LDS church has attempted to crack down on individuals performing this ritual on people not directly connected to their own family's ancestry.
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