In continuing with my addenda project, I’d like to highlight a document relating to my article, “Adoptive Sealing Ritual in Mormonism.” One of the arguments I present in this paper is that Wilford Woodruff’s 1894 revelation on adoptive sealing rituals resulted in “a shift away from micromanaging eternal relationships to a position of aspiration—a belief that a just God will ensure that no blessings are kept from the faithful.” (117) I’m convinced that this 1894 revelation is the single most important contributor to current Mormon beliefs regarding eternal families and the blessings of heaven.
I think I did a decent job in outlining the pressures that led to the various practices of micromanagement regarding temple sealings. However, after publication, I found a letter in the L. John Nuttall Papers at the L. Tom Perry Special Collections (BYU) which really highlights the issues at play in a way that is, I think, very easy for modern church members to identify with.
Nuttall was the secretary to President John Taylor. In his papers is some of the correspondence he wrote on behalf of President Taylor. In 1884 he responded to a letter written to Taylor by a Mary Glover Johnson and her mother-in-law. Mary was married with children when her husband passed away. Likely due to their living away from Salt Lake City, this man was a baptized member, but had not participated in the temple liturgy. Mary then married Joseph Hills Johnson, a prominent man in Southern Utah, in the temple. The question: to whom should her children be sealed?
[John Taylor] decides that it will be proper for Sister Glover’s living children to have their choice as to whom they will be sealed or adopted. If the children decide to go with herself and Bro. Johnson, there should be then as much work done as possibly can be, in behalf of their father. He having been a member of the Church, will not have to be baptized for, but he should have his endowments, and some one or more women that he had been acquainted with or that would be suitable for him should be sealed to him, so that he will not be alone. In regard to the children of Sister Glover who are dead, she can have those children sealed to her, yet the President suggests that if she feels like letting two of the children that are dead go with their father it will be all right, but in this she can use her own pleasure and judgement. . . (1)
This is, I think a very reasonable response, and yet it highlights the tension inherent in the realities of mortality. If the children want to be sealed to their biological father, he needs to have a woman sealed to him as wife. But his wife is already sealed to another man. What I would really like is to find some evidence for the reactions of Mary and her children to this letter, and what the children ultimately chose.
- L. John Nuttall, Letter to Jane E. Johnson and Mary Glover Johnson, November 22, 1884, L. John Nuttall Papers, Vault MSS 790, Box 4, book 3, letter 245, L. Tom Perry Special Collections, Provo, Utah.