It was once a common practice for faithful LDS Church members to be sealed Church leaders until about the 1890s when President Wilford Woodruff put a stop to the practice. This was known as the Law of Adoption. BYU professor Dr. Richard Bennett will talk to us and tells us about the theological justifications and why church members felt the need to be sealed to church leaders. Bennett makes the case that until Joseph F. Smith’s 1918 of the Spirit World, that many didn’t know the gospel was preached to the dead. How do we better understand the Law of Adoption?
Dick: I don’t think you can talk about the Law of Adoption without understanding the development of the doctrine of the Spirit World and the doctrine of the gospel being taught in the Spirit World, which really doesn’t come to fruition in our doctrine and our history until Joseph F. Smith’s great revelation in 1918 and what was going on in the spirit world. It’s a progressive doctrine about the souls of men and women that are living in the spirit world.
Are they being reclaimed? Are they being taught the gospel? Are they being converted? Are they being forgiven? Are they receiving the fullness of the gospel there?
Baptism for the dead opened that door, to actually begin to do ordinances for the dead. But could we be sealed to our ancestors like we do today? We take it so for granted. You’re just being sealed to your ancestors. Well if they’re not receiving the gospel, we don’t want to take the risk of being sealed to them because what’s going to happen to us if they don’t accept the gospel?
Until it became clear that the fullness of the gospel was being taught to them, the deceased, and that they were receiving the fullness of the ordinances, better be on the safe side and be sealed to a living prophet or a deceased prophet maybe like Joseph Smith and we’ll be sealed. Until we know more clearly what’s going to happen, let’s be sealed to the prophetic priesthood lineage of the prophet Joseph priesthood claim and therefore it’s a done deal. Can I use that term? It’s a safer way than, we don’t know what’s happening to our ancestors. That’s going to change as we learn better and more clearly, especially in 1877 with Wilford Woodruff when he announces that from now on, we’re going to do endowments for the dead. We don’t begin to do endowments for the dead until 1877. That’s 40 years after Nauvoo, 30 years after Nauvoo.
Were you aware that this is why church members were sealed to prophets and other general authorities?