On January 15, 2012, CNN.com ran a story today about the LDS Church belief in posthumous proxy baptisms and the discovery that a handful of Jewish survivors of the Holocaust had such baptims performed for them. It was a sexy headline, and the story attracted some pretty heated commentary on CNN (as does any story with the word “Mormon” in it). For what it is worth, this is a (slightly edited version of) my contribution:Trying for rational discussion here is probably too much to hope for, but I’ll try.
First, in terms of process: LDS Church policy does require that you be related to anyone who’s name you submit for proxy ordinances. However, there is a flood of names provided, and I can’t imagine how difficult it is to screen all of them. But I’ve never had any responsibility in that area, so I can’t really speak to it. I do know that I have heard the instruction regarding not just submitting names of anyone, including Holocaust victims, several times. If this happened, it’s against policy, all conspiracy theories to the contrary. Like any other organization (including churches) the LDS church has kooks that refuse to follow directions. There have been days when I have been numbered among them, I am sure.
Second, there is no upside to anyone doing this in violation of policy, so it baffles me why anyone would do it. Nothing in the Church is conditioned upon how many names we’ve submitted to the temples. Some folks submit a lot; some none. Nobody is keeping track, and no “brownie points” are available. Nor do we count “dead” people as members of the Church. We may be a lot of things, but we aren’t 1960 Chicago.
As to doctrine, this is much less exciting or than people would like to portray it. We believe that all people will have the right to accept or reject the message that we believe to be the fullness of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. We also believe, like most Christians, that baptism is an essential ordinance. So, we believe that we can perform baptisms in our temples for people who have died so that IF they accept the message after this life, then they will have had the ordinance performed on their behalf. If they don’t, the ordinance is of zero effect. We aren’t “making them Mormons.” You may find the belief in proxy baptisms odd, heretical, or whatever label you choose to use. Doesn’t matter much to me. But folks should at least portray our beliefs correctly before they yell at us about them
Just this year, I was baptized on behalf of my grandfather, who was a Methodist minister. Did he accept it? Beats me. I’d like to think that he did, given the number of time he incorporated Book of Mormon ideas into his sermon. (True, but odd story). But I don’t know. All I know is that I loved him a lot, and if he does accept the gospel after this life, the ordinance has been performed for him. If he doesn’t, well, I think he knew me well enough to know that I did what I did out of love and respect.
What baffles me is that this is seen as outrageous, but the mainstream Christian belief that Jews are condemned eternally for rejecting Christ is somehow preferable? And if you believe, as is your right, that what we do in our temples just a bunch of cultish mumbo-jumbo, then why care about this?
Please remember that individual choice is at the core of our doctrine. We believe that all people should have the opportunity to accept or reject our message, and that requires that everyone have the right to accept or reject it. We don’t compel anyone to come into the Church, and we don’t compel anyone to stay. This issue of proxy baptisms is consistent with that belief. If every single person for whom we perform ordinances rejects them, we’re ok with that. Honest.