This week, Nobel prize-winning author of Night Elie Wiesel asked the LDS Church to stop doing proxy baptisms in its temples for Jewish Holocaust victims. Apparently, an errant church member erroneously entered such a name into our database, though no baptism was actually performed, as that would have violated a church policy that already bars such work for Holocaust victims.
- Baptism for the dead is being described in some places as an “obscure” practice (such as in this First Thoughts piece here), perhaps in an effort to make something so strange seem less embarrassing to Mormons, or to shield Mitt Romney’s faith from criticism. On the contrary, baptism for the dead is so mainstream that congregations frequently organize trips for groups of teens to go to the temple to do them. There’s no reason to hide a belief that’s actually quite wonderful.
- The Mormon practice of baptizing people on behalf of those who have died is a means of answering the question, “Since Christ said everybody had to be baptized to be saved, what happens to people who died without the opportunity?” This practice is the world’s only real answer to that: an attempt to offer a chance of salvation to those in the next world who would like it. No wonder Joseph Smith wrote of baptism for the dead, “It may seem to some to be a very bold doctrine that we talk of” but that it constitutes “a voice of gladness for the living and the dead.” (Doctrine and Covenants 128:9, 19).
- Some people are incorrectly asserting (for example, here) that Mormons think baptism for the dead makes the deceased into Mormons, and that we subsequently record them as such. Not so. The practice only offers the deceased, whose spirits we believe all live on and have since learned the truth of Jesus Christ’s gospel, the chance to accept that truth and act on it if they so desire.
- Wiesel specifically asked Mitt Romney to put a stop to unauthorized proxy baptisms. Romney has no major standing as an authority in the LDS Church or, for that matter, any government office. It seems odd to target him just for being well-known at the moment. Wouldn’t approaching actual church leaders make more sense?
- It also confuses me that anyone would be offended by this practice. Unless our theology is true, our ordinances make no difference to the rest of the world.
- Nobody criticizing this practice seems to be acknowledging things that I think should seem obvious: Mormons put a lot of time and effort into a work that couldn’t possibly benefit them personally, and which only makes sense as an act of loving service for those who can’t be baptized for themselves. It’s little different, then, from anyone of any faith praying for those who have passed on. It may seem like an odd waste of time to non-believers, but surely credit should be given for the kind motive behind it.