Jews, Mitt Romney, and Baptism for the Dead

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.

6 comments on “Jews, Mitt Romney, and Baptism for the Dead

  1. “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.”

    I would think it odd if someone wasn’t offended. Even though baptizing those who have died does not make them into Mormons, wouldn’t you be offended if members of your faith died in a horrible genocide targeted specifically at people of the Mormon religion, and then someone who was Jewish across the world performed a religious ceremony you specifically did not believe for them?

    Jews do not believe in baptism because they do not believe in original sin. They believe that everyone is born pure and innocent and they do not need to be baptized. By baptizing members of the Jewish religion you are disregarding a big part of their faith.

    While I don’t understand contacting Mitt Romney, I think it’s silly that you don’t understand why he would be upset.

  2. Alicia, you ask a good question, and while I’d like to say that I wouldn’t be offended in that scenario, I can’t be sure that I can really imagine myself in that situation–it’s too far beyond anything in my experience–so I won’t pretend to be able to say for sure how I’d react.

    I understand the difference in beliefs that’s involved, but I hope that our practice isn’t seen as “disregarding a big part” of anyone’s faith. Ironically, nothing in the Christian world respects and honors Judaism as much as the Book of Mormon, so it’s unfortunate that we find ourselves at odds here. I do see where you’re coming from with your concern, but there’s no insult intended, or harm done.

    Ideally, baptisms for the dead should only be performed for those who are ancestors of church members, anyway, so without the undue excesses of some Mormons who submit names they shouldn’t, this should be a moot point, anyway. I’ll certainly join with my church leaders in saying that, as some Mormons have tried to do unauthorized baptisms and feelings have been needlessly hurt by that, I’m sorry.

    I hope that we can all improve tolerance and understanding. People of all faiths need each other.

  3. I have written a more thoughtful piece about this earlier, but what it boils down to is this: I have Evangelical friends, who “pray for my soul” because it’s lost, as far as they’re concerned. Should I choose to be offended?

    If I had Catholic family members, they would lite a candle for me, and that would be no different than our baptism for the dead.

    I think this can offend, if one is deliberately given to understand, that we “make them Mormons”, which we by no means do. We just believe they’re in a place where they’d appreciate it. I understand that there are members, who like to do baptisms for famous people, which is not what we should do. We should stick to our own relatives.

  4. Alicia, I forgot to reply to your question. Before I was married, and my next of kin were my parents, they would certainly not given me a Mormon funeral. The thought annoyed me at the time, because it was their way of showing to me that my life decisions were wrong to begin with.

    So yes, and BTW, I was baptised against my will when I was a newborn. It offended me when I found out. But now I’m more mature and understand they were doing what they thought were right.

    I would not vote for Romney, but this is part of a political smear campaign and the wingnut blogosphere is alight.

  5. Velska, thanks as always for your thoughts. There’s a lot of good stuff here, but the story about your infant baptism may be troublesome. You said that “now I’m more mature and understand,” and if that’s an analogy for baptism for the dead, it could be seen as condescending.

    Obviously we hope that when some spirits of the departed learn the gospel, they’ll gladly accept the baptisms we perform here, but that hardly means that we think they or anyone is less “mature” for not seeking out or accepting the gospel here or there!

    I’m sure you were just trying to show sympathy with the good intentions of others, but I thought that needed clarifying.

  6. @Huston, your line here was right:

    You said that “now I’m more mature and understand,” and if that’s an analogy for baptism for the dead, it could be seen as condescending.

    I see that could sound condescending to someone. Well, I want to say that infant baptism still offends me more than baptism for the dead. I wish to state, by way of explanation, that if basically the whole world is correct about us being nowhere near the truth, then whatever we do in our temples doesn’t make anyone at all Mormon or anything else. And if what we teach is right, our proxy baptisms don’t make them anything, either.

    What most bothers me about this is that the brouhaha combines two of the worst ways in which Christian main stream has strayed from truth:

    first, they think that we baptise the dead because we think they’ve been terrible people–infant baptism is (or at least was originally explained this way) practised in the fear that if not, they’re going directly to Limbo or Hell, depending on whether you’re Catholic or Protestant, because they’re fallen humans, or sinners (forgiveness of sin is part of why an adult should be baptised, but I’d say baptism is not even mostly about sin);

    second, everyone has heard a Catholic or Protestant say s/he is that, because his/her parents had her/him baptised when s/he was newborn (and these people remain lapsed Catholics or Protestants despite their alienation from Faith)–thus, after someone has nefariously sneaked into the temple with the name of some deceased person, the deceased has no choice in the matter afterwards.

    Now, I don’t say it that way to be flippant. As I said, I was baptised as newborn, and withdrew from the Protestant Church my mum was a member of. That they–my mother and teachers and the Lutheran institution who taught me–thought that children are damned if they die before they’re baptised, really irritated and offended me at a time in my life. That took place before I decided to remain as agnostic as possible.

    When I say that I now understand better, I mean that they just were teaching what they had been taught, which also made me decide to teach my children from different people’s perspectives in addition to my own. In other words those people meant very well. They weren’t ignorant as much as they had believed what they had been taught.

    I understand better also because I really am an adult now, and take things much calmly. So I’m no longer offended.

    So here’s my long explanation to a short off-the-cuff again. ;)

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