Is Posthumous Marrying Offensive?

Apr 9 2012 @ 9:08am

by Maisie Allison

According to the Mormon Church, Thomas Jefferson is the husband of Sally Hemmings, his slave and the mother of several of his children, the couple having been "proxy sealed" in a practice similar to posthumous baptism:

[T]he LDS Church, according to its Family Search registry, considers Hemings to be Thomas Jefferson’s wife. (One of two—the other of course being Jefferson’s legal wife, Martha, who happens to be Sally Hemings’s half-sister; she and Hemings were both the daughters of Virginia plantation owner John Wayles.) Jefferson is also listed as the father of Hemings’s children.  … Why does this matter? Because Mormons not only believe in baptizing non-Mormons who have died—they also believe in “sealing” families so they can spend eternity together.

Joanna Brooks grapples with the ceremony:

Mormonism uniquely emphasizes eternal marriage as a rite necessary to enter the highest levels of heaven. Viewed through this theological prism (and with a generous dose of romantic idealism about the quality of most human marriages), the practice of posthumous sealings has special warmth for LDS people. But sealing deceased slaves to their slavemasters? Thomas Jefferson to Sally Hemmings? A relationship that emblematizes slavery’s most complicated and intimate forms of exploitation?