This past weekend, I had occasion to attend an unusual sealing ceremony. One of my wife’s co-workers is in her 70s. Her husband passed away last year. Yesterday she was sealed to her dead husband. Her son served as proxy for her deceased husband. (Incidentally, she has been married and divorced to 2 other men previously.) Back in 2011, I discussed the change initiated in 1969 by Apostle (and future President) Howard W. Hunter in which women are now sealed to all their previous husbands, with the understanding that God will work out the sealing. It seems that my wife’s co-worker made the decision who she wants to be sealed to in this life, but in 100 years, someone will notice that she wasn’t sealed to her first husband and will probably seal her to her other 2 husbands.
With February being Black History Month, it got me thinking about another unusual sealing performed sometime between 1894 and 1902. In my previous post on The Mormon Church and Blacks, there is some correspondence between Jane and various church leaders in which she asks for the endowment and sealing ordinances. Bringhurst and Harris include excerpts from some of these letters. Her first letter is dated Dec 27, 1884 and is addressed to President John Taylor.
I cauled at your house last Thursday to have conversation with you concerning my future salvation[.]…
You know my history & according to the best of my ability I have lived to all of the requirements of the Gospel [.] when we reached Nauvoo we were 9 in the family & had traveled 9 hundred miles on foot [.] Bro Joseph Smith took us in & we staid with him until a few day[s] of his death[.]
Sister Emma came to me & aksed me how I would like to be adopted to them as a Child[.] I did not comprehend her & she came again[.] I was so green I did not give her a decided answer & Joseph died & [I] remain as I am [.] if I could be adopted to him as a child my Soul would be satisfied[.] I had been in the Church one year when we left for the East that was 42 years the 14th of last Oct[.]
Br Taylor I hope you…will be able to lay my case before Br Cannon & Br Jos F Smith & God in mercy grant my reques[t] in being adopted to Br Joseph as a Child[.]
I remain yor Sister in the Gospel of Christ
Jane E James
Angus Cannon, President of the Salt Lake Stake, writes a letter some 4 years later (June 16, 1888)
Mrs. Jane James,
I enclose your recommend properly signed,–which will entitled you to enter the Temple to be baptized and confirmed for your dead kindred.
You must be content with this privilege, awaiting further instructions from the Lord to his servants. I am your servant and brother in the Gospel.
Angus M. Cannon
There are a few other letters in the book, but let me get to the last document which is titled “Minutes of a meeting of the Council of the Twelve, January 2, 1902.” In response to her repeated requests, a compromise was made in which Jane was sealed as a “servant” of Joseph and Emma.
The wife of Isaac James (known[n] as Aunt Jane) asked to receive her own endowments and to be sealed; but Presidents Woodruff, Cannon, and Smith decided that this could not be done, but decided that she might be adopted into the family of Joseph Smith as a servant, was done, a special ceremony having been prepared for the purpose. But Aunt Jane was not satisfied with this, and as a mark of her dissatisfaction she applied again and after this for sealing blessings, but of course in vain.
On the one hand, it is interesting to see that the First Presidency got creative and tried to accommodate Jane as best they could by creating a special sealing ordinance. Jane was not allowed into the temple to participate, but instead a white sister (whose name escapes me) served as proxy for Jane in the ordinance. That was definitely an unusual sealing ceremony! Their refusal to allow Jane into the temple, according to a journal entry of Wilford Woodruff dated Oct 16, 1894
We had a Meeting with several individuals among the rest Black Jane wanted to know if I would not let her have her Endowments in the Temple[,] this I could not do as it was against the Law of God As Cain killed Abel All the seed of Cain would have to wait for redemption until all of the seed that Abel would have had that may come through other me can be redeemed.
If she had to wait for Abel’s seed, we know that means never. So on the one hand, I can appreciate Woodruff for trying to accommodate Jane through a special sealing ordinance. On the other hand, slavery was abolished in 1864 with the Civil War. Jane is being sealed as a “servant”??? Is that a euphemism for a slave of Joseph and Emma?
I had hoped to show her sealing had already been completed, but a quick search of FamilySearch shows that someone has reserved her baptismal ordinances back in 2014. Does this person not know that Jane died in the faith and does not need her baptism? I know Margaret Young has done extensive research on Jane James, and I thought Jane’s temple work had been completed back in 1978, but if that’s the case, it isn’t shown on FamilySearch.
My real question is this? If the sealing power is to bind on earth and in heaven, what do you make of this sealing ordinance where she was sealed as a servant? Does this have efficacy in the next life? Are you proud or ashamed (or both) that Woodruff sealed her as a servant to Joseph Smith?