Stephen Taysom put together a collection of essays in a new book titled Dimensions of Faith: A Mormon Studies Reader. Topics include biographies, theory, experience, memory, and media/literature with authors such as Newell Bringhurst, Larry Foster, and Jonathan Stapley (to name a few.)
Many of us are familiar with Wilford Woodruff’s vision of the Founding Fathers in the St. George Temple. Brian Stuy gives some interesting background on this story. Just after the temple was dedicated in 1877, apostle and temple president Wilford Woodruff had a dream on two successive nights. The signers of the Declaration of Independence said to Woodruff,
You have had the use of the Endowment House for a number of years, and yet nothing has ever been done for us. We laid the foundation of the government you now enjoy, and we never apostatized from it, but we remained true to it and were faithful to God.
Stuy notes that Woodruff had been reading a book titled Portrait Gallery of Eminent Men and Women of Europe and America. Woodruff participated in proxy work for not only these famous Americans, but also Christopher Columbus and John Wesley. Stuy believes this book to be the source that may have inspired Woodruff to ponder on the subject.
However, Woodruff was not the first to perform proxy work for the Founding Fathers. Stuy quotes Charlotte Haven, writing in May 1843. She witnessed baptisms for the dead performed in the Mississippi River:
We drew a little nearer and heard several names repeated by the elders as the victims were douched [bathed], and you can imagine our surprise when the name George Washington was called.
Stuy goes on to say on pages 84-86,
In addition to the event Haven witnessed, there were at least three other occasions in Nauvoo when George Washington was baptized.5 Others for whom this proxy ordinance was performed in Illinois include Benjamin Franklin;6 Presidents John Adams, William Henry Harisson, Thomas Jefferson, and James Monroe; George Washington’s wife, Martha Dandridge Custis Washington; mother Mary Ball Washington; and Thomas Jefferson’s wife, Martha Wayles Jefferson.7 Later in St. George, Woodruff would arrange to have proxy baptisms perfromed for all of these individuals.
In 1876, most likely in response to the centennial the nation celebrated that year, [John] Bernhisel began systematically arranging for the baptism of all the Founding Fathers and other well-known U.S. leaders. On August 9, he and his daughter Mary went to the Endowment House and were baptized for most of the deceased U.S. presidents and their wives. Bernhisel was also baptized for Revolutionary War hero Patrick Henry.13
Duplicate temple work is something that has long been a problem. In fact, that is a major reason why the church has put the new program for familysearch online. With the old PAF files, duplication was a tremendous problem. With the new Family Search, the hope is for more collaboration and less duplication.
While the baptisms were performed multiple times, Stuy notes that the Endowment House only allowed for “live” ordinances. The St. George Temple is the first temple in which endowments were performed for the dead. In that case, even though baptisms were performed previously for the Founding Fathers, Woodruff wsa the first to allow the other ordinances to be performed for these men and women. Stuy notes that in 1985, President Benson wanted to make sure these ordinances were performed. While most had been performed, some wives and children of the signers weren’t completed, so Benson made sure these were done in time for the bicentennial celebration of the Constitutional Convention in 1987.
What do you make of Woodruff’s vision?