How to respond when a church says it is baptizing your dead

Imagine if you will a new, popular cult in Brazil called “The Believers who Baptize Their Dead.” Its members seem to be pretty good people, but they have this weird cultist practice: they gather in places they call “temples” and they pretend to “baptize” relatives and occasionally even friends. They keep track of who has been baptized and who hasn’t by a computer program, and people are encouraged to spend time when they can doing “work” for the people who have already passed on.

These “Believers” think that once people die they may change their minds about the religions they practiced while alive. They believe that they may choose to accept the new religion of the “Believers.” So, by baptizing them they are doing a service, ie, they are offering them a choice of joining this new religion. They think a lot of these people will be eternally grateful they were offered the choice.

So, let’s say this weird cult gets your name and baptizes you after you die. Would you care?

It seems to me there are several relevant points here.

1)Do you believe in the cult of the “Believers?” If you do not, then who cares? It is just a weird practice done by people whose religion you don’t believe in. They aren’t physically hurting anybody — they are simply praying over your name and baptizing you by proxy. If their cult is meaningless religiously, then they are doing nothing you should care about. They should have the right through free speech to do what they want as long as they don’t harm other people — their religious practice is simply protected speech (which also exists in Brazil, btw).

2)If you DO believe in the cult of the “Believers,” then they are doing you a great service. They are offering you a choice in the afterlife that you didn’t have while alive. And they are spending their own time doing it. These people are truly selfless and should be congratulated for their actions. And you should be be grateful.

Now, let’s say these “Believers” pretend to baptize your dead grandfather, whom you know was a sworn atheist and hated all religion. Let’s think this through. Let’s say they prayed for your grandfather (“Please help his soul to be happy for all eternity”). Would you mind if they prayed for him? Well, their ritual is simply that, a prayer with a proxy baptism. Would you really mind all that much? Remember, you probably think the whole thing is meaningless religiously (you are not a “Believer” after all). So, why would you care? It seems to me if anything most people would think it is a nice gesture to care for somebody who has been dead for 40 years. The fact that they are taking their time to think nice thoughts about your dead grandfather is actually quite touching.

Now, let’s say there is a large group of people — Holocaust victims — whose relatives really, really don’t want the “Believers” to carry out baptisms. These victims are martyrs for their religion, after all. After much protest, the Believers agree not to do it. But occasionally a member will still do it, usually accidentally but perhaps even maliciously. You may not know that a name that you are given is actually a Holocaust victim, after all. How would you respond? It seems you can get all upset about it or you can realize that the Believers are human and sometimes make mistakes. There are many “Believer” temples after all, and it is tough to know exactly who is and who isn’t a Holocaust victim.

Should the “Believers” try harder not to baptize Holocaust victims after they have promised not to do it? Yes, and they say they will try harder. But in the meantime, it seems like the general public should be patient with them and realize they are not deliberately carrying out this policy. And at the end of the day, we arrive back at the points above: would we care if the “Believers” said a nice prayer for the Holocaust victim? Probably not, we would probably think it is a nice gesture. So, why do we care if they say a nice prayer and offer a proxy baptism? The Believers are not, after all, saying the person has changed his religion. They are saying he has the opportunity to do so if he wishes to when he is dead.

I am not a member of this cultist “Believer” religion, but its members sound pretty nice to me. Imagine spending all that time thinking about ancestors and praying for them and doing proxy baptisms for them. Their work sounds very selfless and kind to me. If only we could somehow explain that to the editors of the anti-Mormon New Republic.

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About Geoff B.

Geoff B has had three main careers. Some of them have overlapped. After attending Stanford University (class of 1985), he worked in journalism for several years until about 1992, when he took up his second career in telecommunications sales. In 1995, he took up his favorite and third career as father. Soon thereafter, Heavenly Father hit him over the head with a two-by-four (wielded by the Holy Ghost) and he woke up from a long sleep. Since then, he's been learning a lot about the Gospel. He still has a lot to learn. Geoff's held several Church callings: young men's president, high priest group leader, member of the bishopric, stake director of public affairs, media specialist for church public affairs, high councilman. He tries his best in his callings but usually falls short. Geoff has five children and lives in Colorado.

54 thoughts on “How to respond when a church says it is baptizing your dead

  1. Then you’ll have no objection if I posthumously convert all your relatives to gayness

    They don’t have to turn gay, but they have the opportunity to turn gay in the spirit world, if they so desire.

  2. Exactly Daniel, I have no care in the world if you do that because I believe you have no power. Its offensive only because you are trying to be offensive, but the act itself is of no consequence.

  3. It doesn’t leave you with any affective response? Uncle Floyd in the afterlife with a dude?

    If you could understand that, you might better understand why others have the response they do. They like their faith tradition, it’s been a part of their family for years, and the idea of someone facilitating their relatives’ posthumous transition to another one seems like ancestor hijacking.

  4. Daniel, what you don’t understand is that this falls under the same category as free speech. You can say whatever you want (including giving a prayer) as long as you don’t hurt somebody else physically (with the well-known exceptions of yelling fire in a crowded theater because that will cause physical harm). If you want to baptize my Uncle Floyd to gayness, it is exactly as if you said, “Uncle Floyd, you are gay.” This has zero effect on Uncle Floyd, me or anybody else. As I say, go for it. My Uncle Floyd is quite safe and happy wherever he is.

  5. I think for those doing the complaining, it’s not really about Uncle Floyd. It’s about what you’re communicating.

    By doing the baptisms, you’re saying that everyone needs to be Mormon, which seems right enough to you, but which rubs many people the wrong way. And communicating this by performing a symbolic act upon a member of someone’s family is a particularly egregious way to rub someone the wrong way.

  6. “It doesn’t leave you with any affective response? Uncle Floyd in the afterlife with a dude?”

    None. Whatsoever.

    “If you could understand that, you might better understand why others have the response they do”

    And if you could understand why most Mormons wouldn’t care what you do with “Uncle Floyd’s” name, then you might understand the Mormon theological purpose of Proxy work.

  7. Daniel, you need to re-read the post. I think I answer your concerns pretty effectively without making the same argument over and over again.

  8. Jettboy, the purpose of temple work is to keep you coming back to the temple as often as possible.

  9. Fine, Geoff. I just think you’re explaining why you feel okay about proxy baptisms, without dealing with (or attempting to understand) the reasons why others would have a problem with it.

  10. Geoff, glad to chime in here to generally agree with you. What is really going on here is the complicated politics surrounding the Holocaust and what groups get to claim ownership of all aspects of that namespace in the public discourse (the status quo of which is bought into by all sides of the US political and media spectrum). It is somewhat understandable, given the frequency with which the Jewish people have been mistreated by larger societies over time, that they are allowed to claim a special privilege in protecting the brand of their heritage. Leaving that aside, though, it is also fair to assume that the Church is willing to negotiate this point a bit, to the extent it wants to act as an influential institution in the public square and such things as maintaining its property in Israel, etc. So although its frustrating that the outrage wouldn’t make sense coming from other groups, the end result is something of a market oriented solution, no?

  11. Frankly, if the LDS position is correct, then it should respectfully insist on baptizing all, including Holocaust victims. Why leave them as a special category outside of exaltation? This looks to me (as an Anglican) as nothing but bowing to public pressure instead of standing by your beliefs.

  12. Absolutely its just a question of bowing to public pressure. So what? We have a mission to perform, and if performing one part of the mission is interfering with other parts, we have to triage.

  13. By doing the baptisms, you’re saying that everyone needs to be Mormon, which seems right enough to you, but which rubs many people the wrong way. And communicating this by performing a symbolic act upon a member of someone’s family is a particularly egregious way to rub someone the wrong way.

    People who get upset over exclusive truth claims are just going to have to deal. But your last sentence is wrong, and I believe you know it to be wrong. The purpose of Mormon baptisms for the dead is not to “communicate” our exclusive truth claims to the family members. If it were we would probably make some effort to, you know, communicate to people that we baptized their great-grandaddy.

  14. The church needs to get over its persecution complex. I performed all ordinances for a full-blooded jew and make no apologies for it. My wife converted him on his deathbed. He received his witness about the gospel’s truthfulness at the moment of death and went out a real happy guy. He gave her the necessary dates and names in a dream. The lady at the family history center said that such work couldn’t be done, but she cried when she heard the story and enabled the work to proceed.

  15. As Adam G notes, the Church’s decision to bow to public pressure on Holocaust victim baptisms is a tactical one. The overall strategy — offering baptism to all of the children of Adam and Eve eventually — remains the same.

  16. “By doing the baptisms, you’re saying that everyone needs to be Mormon, which seems right enough to you, but which rubs many people the wrong way. And communicating this by performing a symbolic act upon a member of someone’s family is a particularly egregious way to rub someone the wrong way.”
    Agreed.

    “People who get upset over exclusive truth claims are just going to have to deal. But your last sentence is wrong, and I believe you know it to be wrong. The purpose of Mormon baptisms for the dead is not to “communicate” our exclusive truth claims to the family members. If it were we would probably make some effort to, you know, communicate to people that we baptized their great-grandaddy.”
    Yes, you absolutely SHOULD contact the family members, and ASK PERMISSION. You are dealing with people’s FAMILY. The FAMILY’s wishes take precedence over yours.

    Justify it any way you want, but your rationalizations fail on one simple point. You don’t baptize living people the same way. You recognize for the living that they have the right to make that choice for themselves. But you feel you can do what you will with the dead. That is insulting both to the dead who likely would have refused while they lived, and to their living family, who are likely to take offense.

    But you just don’t care. “If you don’t believe, then who cares?” Obviously, the family involved cares, that’s why they protest. “Deal with it.” How much more disrespectful can you be?

  17. Leaford: Your “reasoning” won’t hold water. First, performing an ordinance vicariously doesn’t directly involve the dead person in any way. Second, the person for whom the proxy baptism is performed is free in Mormon thought to accept or reject the gesture of love made by offering baptism. Third, it is not insult but an expression of the love that we have for all people. If that is offensive, then the thin skinned offense is a choice that is not justified in the least. If someone puts up a monument honoring the dead, do you object? If someone wishes your ancestors well, do you feel put out?

    Here is the most telling point. From the point of view of those who reject that such baptisms for the dead can be salvific, it is an empty gesture. It has no effect whatsoever. What they are getting their noses bent out of joint over is a mere nullity from such a perspective. What that means is that those who take offense are getting offended for the mere sake of choosing to be offended.

    I’m much less patient with those who simply choose to take offense without cause — and even with cause taking offense bespeaks a lack of charity. Instead of seeing the love and good will embodied in the gesture of baptism for the dead, they choose to take offense because . . . why? How are they hurt? Come on, this is just placating for the sake of good PR. Admittedly the LDS Church has taken the high road. But giving in to every thin skinned demand that lacks charity in response to a gesture of love only encourages and rewards such uncharitable responses.

  18. “Yes, you absolutely SHOULD contact the family members, and ASK PERMISSION. You are dealing with people’s FAMILY. The FAMILY’s wishes take precedence over yours.”

    Do I need to contact their family for permission to pray for their kindred dead? If they don’t believe my religion, how is this any different?

  19. Blake: “Your “reasoning” won’t hold water. First, performing an ordinance vicariously doesn’t directly involve the dead person in any way.”

    So why don’t you do it for living persons? You could baptize them by proxy just as easily without involving them in any way. The answer, obviously, is that you respect their freedom of choice, their free will. I suggest you do the same for the dead.

    “Second, the person for whom the proxy baptism is performed is free in Mormon thought to accept or reject the gesture of love made by offering baptism.”

    You are not making a mere gesture, nor an offer. You are performing a ritual which has the intent of inducting them into your faith, and you have neither considered their own wishes in the matter nor their family’s. Again, would you dare to do that to a living person? Why not treat the dead with the same respect?

    “Third, it is not insult but an expression of the love that we have for all people.”

    In the minds of those of a different faith, a baptism into a religion they did not choose is NOT an expression of love, it is an offense against their own faith, or lack thereof.

    “If that is offensive, then the thin skinned offense is a choice that is not justified in the least.”

    That is the same rationalization made by every person who tells a racist or sexist joke. “Don’t be so sensitive.” It is a statement that you do not care what they think about what you have said or done, that you are not willing to consider their point of view, that only yours matters.

    You may intend it as a gesture of love, just as someone may not mean any offense when they tell an off color joke. But you do NOT have the right to tell them how they should react, or that they should not be offended. We should all be sensitive to the wishes and feelings of others, to try not to offend others, and to refrain from doing or saying things to others that we have been told they find offensive. And your faith HAS been told that they find your posthumous baptisims offensive, repeatedly, by people of MANY other faiths. You just refuse to listen.

    “If someone puts up a monument honoring the dead, do you object? If someone wishes your ancestors well, do you feel put out?”

    Niether of those is a ritual intended to induct the dead into a faith they did not choose. That is a difference of several orders of magnitude.

    “Here is the most telling point. From the point of view of those who reject that such baptisms for the dead can be salvific, it is an empty gesture. It has no effect whatsoever. What they are getting their noses bent out of joint over is a mere nullity from such a perspective. What that means is that those who take offense are getting offended for the mere sake of choosing to be offended.
    “I’m much less patient with those who simply choose to take offense without cause — and even with cause taking offense bespeaks a lack of charity. Instead of seeing the love and good will embodied in the gesture of baptism for the dead, they choose to take offense because . . . why? How are they hurt?”

    A racist joke has no effect on me. Being flipped off has no effect on me. Being called ugly has no effect on me. Being called a liar has no effect on me or the truth of what I said.

    Yet all of those things can hurt and offend me. And would hurt and offend you too, I would guess.

    What’s more, there are religions which FORBID their adherants from participating in any other faiths’ ceremonies. Who believe that they are profaned by that, made unclean, or that it puts their soul in jeopardy. Are you willing to make any allowances for that, or is that just them “getting their nose bent out of joint,” too?

    It’s about respect for others. Your beliefs and your wishes should not be imposed on others, whether it has any effect or not.

    “Admittedly the LDS Church has taken the high road.”
    No, the high road would be to respect the wishes of others, and not do it at all without their or their living family’s permission. Doing it any other way is the low road. Very low indeed.

    “But giving in to every thin skinned demand that lacks charity in response to a gesture of love only encourages and rewards such uncharitable responses.”
    The “thin skinned demand” of mutual respect? Where is your charity, your empathy, your respect for other’s wishes? How many people have to tell you that they find it offensive before you will grant them the “charity” of not going out of your way to offend them? Of respecting their wishes and feelings, and not dismissing them arrogantly as “thin skinned?”

    Is there any number?

    ldsphilosopher said: “Do I need to contact their family for permission to pray for their kindred dead? If they don’t believe my religion, how is this any different?”
    It is different because a prayer, in and of itself, is not intended to induct a person into a religion they did not choose. Your beliefs do not take priority over others’. Doing it first, THEN giving them the choice to accept is backwards. Give them, or their family the choice FIRST, then do it if the offer is accepted. Doing anything less shows that you have absolutely no regard for them, only for yourself.

  20. Leaford, your arguments are nonsensical. How exactly are you going to ask permission of a dead person? Each person has free will on his or her own — you don’t ask permission of a dead person’s family for anything because the family cannot determine the will of another person, no matter how close they are.

    What you fail to understand is that this falls under the category of free speech. This is the equivalent of a missionary knocking on the door and offering something to somebody. When you answer the door, you can tell the missionary to go away. But in your world it is offensive for the missionary to even knock on the door. We must all read your mind and know what you find offensive beforehand.

    Sorry, Leaford, the intolerant one here is you. I hope you realize that sometime during your life.

  21. Leaford,
    you are apparently unaware that in LDS belief, the baptism for the dead doesn’t have any effect or validity unless the deceased person decides that they want it to. So it fully respects their free will.

  22. Leaford: Baptism for the dead is not intended to induct anybody into the Mormon religion, or any other religion. That is the fundamental point at issue here. That needs to be understood or we will forever be talking past each other. Repeat: It does not and is not intended to induct anybody into any religion. With that understanding, does that not give you cause to reconsider your view since it is based on a common, but incorrect misconception?

  23. You know, I am absolutely tired of people like Leaford acting as if Baptism for the Dead is something cooked up at about the same time that the Jews started to complain. IT IS NOT! It is a direct Commandment of God and if we fail in our obligations to do this work, than not only will we be damned, but the whole world will be destroyed!

    “In early 1841, Joseph Smith taught the following, as recorded by William P. McIntire: “Joseph said the Lord said that we should build our house to his name, that we might be baptized for the dead. But if we did it not, we should be rejected, and our dead with us, and this Church should not be accepted [see D&C 124:32].”
    http://www.lds.org/manual/teachings-joseph-smith/chapter-36?lang=eng

    Mormonism is a religion. It has its teachings. It has its theology. It has its rituals and obligations. Just like any other religion. Deal with that before you can deal with offenses, because THAT I think is the main reason for the complaints. If it wasn’t the fact it was a religion many people disagreed with and that holds very strong exclusive truth claims then no one would care.

  24. As I am trying to point out in this post, if you forget the word “Mormon” and just imagine some small religion somewhere else harmless like Brazil saying a prayer and doing a proxy baptism, this issue becomes much less of a big deal. If you don’t accept the religion, then it has absolutely no effect on you. If you do accept it, it is an act of kindness.

    If people understand the true concept of free speech, and see proxy baptism as exactly the same thing as missionary work (ie, an offering to other people that they can freely accept or reject), they will perhaps calm down a bit about the subject. Comments from people like Leaford and several others on this thread show they haven’t really thought through the issue calmly and rationally.

  25. Good points Geoff. What I’ve been taking away from this debate of late is a reaffermation of what we believe in the LDS Church: 1–We all have free agency or choice, even after we die. 2–Because we are all children of God, and he loves us all, he wants to give all of us the chance to accept or reject the Gospel that he has given us. 3–And that’s what proxy baptism is about, allowing people to accept or reject the Gospel — not turn them into Mormons. Like you said, it does not harm anyone in the process. 4–I think the people that continue to do proxy baptisims for people that the Church has asked not to, specifically Holocaust victims, are willfully disobedient, and/or trying to stir up trouble for the Church on purpose. Both are not good and I agree with the Church’s new policy of submitting them to disciplinary actions. We have to do what our Church leaders have asked us, even if we don’t agree. Remember “My ways are not thy ways” from Isaiah. Finally, I think if people would take a minute and try and understand before they get angry with the LDS church, they might see that our intentions are good. We’re not out trying to make people mad, just trying to share what we believe and give everyone a chance.

  26. Most religions carry exclusive truth claims. We’re the only one that has a reasonable plan for including all of God’s children in it.

    I’m offended that your religion has already cast my ancestors to hell.

  27. None of you have yet addressed my criticisms. You are just repeating the same points you have made before.

    Geoff, of course you can’t ask the dead, but I have repeatedly been referring to the living and the dead, and suggesting that you apply the same respect to both. Hence, ask their permission (in the case of the living)or their living relative’s permission (in the case of the dead). Sorry if I did not spell that out clearly enough for you to understand, but I thought I was being very clear.

    And the difference between this and missionary work is that in the case of a missionary at my doorstep I have the opportunity to refuse your evangelism BEFORE you do it. In the case of baptism of the dead, they only have that opportunity AFTER you have done it. And their living family are not being given that opportunity at all. They may not be able to know their relative’s wishes for certain, but they are likely to have greater knowledge and understanding of the deceased than you, a total stranger.

    Adam, what if their choice is that you simply do not perform ANY ceremony on their behalf? How do they, or their living family, reject that?

    Think of it this way. Two people with no romantic relationship are sitting and talking. There have been no romantic signals between them. One suddenly leans forward and kisses the other. There is no force involved, and no restraint. The one being kissed is perfectly free to accept the kiss, or reject it. Does that make it OK? Does that mean it is not a violation? Does that mean the one kissed would be wrong to be offended, or to feel violated?

    It is the same thing. The only ethical thing to do is to not impose something on others that they may not want, unless you have good reason to believe they may, in fact, want it. So ask permission from them or their family, as appropriate.

    Gary, you are splitting hairs and being disingenuous. By definition, a baptism is an induction into a faith, an initiation, a commitment or a bonding ceremony. Even your own tradition refers to it as “sealing.” The fact that they are not enrolled in your member lists does not change that.

    Jetboy, I never said anything about when the doctrine was enacted. Because it is entirely irrelevant. It could be a year old, or a thousand, it would still be wrong if performed the way it is being advocated here.

    And as for, “If it wasn’t the fact it was a religion many people disagreed with and that holds very strong exclusive truth claims then no one would care,” all I can say is DUH!! No offense, ut all you have done is state a tautology.

    Of course people who don’t disagree with it are not bothered by it. The entire point is that many people DO disagree, they have a right to disagree, and you have no right to impose you beliefs on them, or their deceased relatives. We all have the equal right to our own beliefs or lack of beliefs and neither you nor anyone else has the right to impose your own beliefs on others. Not even if they can reject it after the fact.

    Geoff again, no it does not matter if you change the name because the offense is not that it is a Mormon ceremony. The offense is that it is a ceremony of a faith the recipient of the ceremony does not share, and which is likely to offend the living family. That would be equally offensive from any religion.

    Joyce, I am glad to hear that your church leaders have a new policy of punishing those who violate church restrictions.

    Personally, I am concerned with the living. Those restrictions do not satisfy every objection I have with your practice, but it does answer the objections that most concern me, the offense it gives the living relatives of those you baptise.

    But it seems your church needs to do a better job of educating its adherants about your own rules.

    In the meantime, I am not interested in covering the same ground again, and will only respond of you answer my actual arguments.

    1) Why do you not baptise the living by proxy? They also could choose to accept or reject, if told. And if not told, what harm would it do them? If doing so would be a violation of their free choice, why doesn’t the same principle apply to the dead?

    2) Why do you not have any consideratiuon for the direct, immediate, living relatives? It is no more acceptable to argue that they should not be offended because you mean it out of love, than to argue that someone should not be offended by a racist or sexist joke, because you only meant it as humor.

    3) Some religions believe that participating in another faith’s rituals makes them unclean, even if it is done without their willing participation. Why not respect that, and not cause them what they believed to be, and what their living family would still perceive to be, grave harm to their soul?

    And 4)Do you subscribe to the belief that it is better to ask forgiveness than permission? IOW, if you KNEW the baptism would be rejected would you go ahead and do it anyway? How about if you KNOW that the living family does not want you to do it?

    Would you consider that ethical? Moral? Because from the point of view of those of other faiths or no faith, that is all your argument that they can accept or reject the baptism amounts to.

  28. CTJ: Whose religion? Were you addressing me? If so, what religion are you assuming I belong to, and why? You do realize there are more than three religions in the world, and some of them do not include Hell. Some do not even include any gods. I could believe that your ancestors have been reincarnated and are living out another life here and now. Or that your ancestors are now earthly spirits that watch over you and their other decendants, protecting you from malicious spirits. Or that they are now one with the godhead. Or that they are not in Heaven or Hell, just either nearer or farther from God. Or of course, I could be an atheist. None of which is at all relevant to the points I have been arguing, and neither are my actual personal beliefs.

  29. Leaford, re: your number 34, it seems we may be able to arrive at some agreement because it is clear you do not understand what a Mormon baptism is. Perhaps if I explain it to you it will resolve your concerns. If not, I will have to give up.

    A baptism involves several steps. The first and foremost is that somebody wants to be baptized. Somebody must repent and give up past sins and accept the atonement of Jesus Christ. I was baptized when I was 35. People in the LDS church cannot be baptized until they are eight years old. It is not like a baptism in the Catholic church, for example, when infants are baptized. You must be old enough (at least eight years old) to understand what is happening to you and accept it. You are interviewed and asked many questions by the bishop. You must agree to certain things.

    This is crucial. A baptism of somebody is not valid and is meaningless unless the person accepts the baptism. Let me repeat that. Simply dunking somebody in water and saying a prayer is meaningless — it literally means nothing in LDS theology — unless the person accepts the baptism. Free will is the key — a baptism cannot be complete and is completely meaningless — it is an empty act — without the person accepting the baptism.

    So, let’s move on to baptisms in the temple. You can’t ask a dead person if they want to be baptized. But we believe some of them DO want to be baptized. So we say a prayer and we perform a proxy baptism. But this is crucial: THE BAPTISM IS MEANINGLESS AND COMPLETELY WITHOUT EFFECT AND NULL AND VOID UNLESS THE SPIRIT OF THE PERSON ON THE OTHER SIDE (THE PERSON WHO IS DEAD) ACCEPTS THE BAPTISM. Free will still is the key point, even for dead people.

    So, to answer your concerns, you don’t perform a live baptism by proxy for somebody who is alive because they are still around to be consulted. They are available to express their desire to be baptized or not. But a dead person cannot be consulted.

    A person’s relative cannot speak for the person. Each person is a unique human being with their own desires. I love my wife, but I don’t speak for her. She speaks for herself. To claim that relatives can control your free will is to deny the unique individuality of each person created by God.

    So, let me say this again because I still am not convinced you understand this. You wrote the following: “And the difference between this and missionary work is that in the case of a missionary at my doorstep I have the opportunity to refuse your evangelism BEFORE you do it. In the case of baptism of the dead, they only have that opportunity AFTER you have done it.” Let me be very, very clear. When you baptize somebody by proxy you have not completed the ordinance. You have only done part of it. The ordinance is only complete and finished when the dead person accepts the ordinance by their own free will. So, from the LDS perspective baptism is EXACTLY like missionary work in that you are knocking on the door and offering. But the baptism is not valid — and is completely meaningless — unless the person who is dead accepts the baptism.

    I hope this is clear now.

  30. Leaford, to add to what Geoff has said in #36, as Latter-day Saints we believe that everyone has the chance to learn the Gospel as well, after they are dead in the spirit world. We belelive that everyone has the chance to be informed and can reject or accept the Gospel and all of the ordinances performed on their behalf. We keep these records on earth and believe they are kept in Heaven as well. We believe that because we are all Children of God that God honors our choices and has given us the gift of choice — we call that agency. We believe that God wants every last one of us to know as much as we can, to know everything that he has given us, even after we die we can have that chance, which is very fair, seeing that not everyone on earth will have contact with a Latter-day Saint. It’s not us just going in and blindly doing work for a name. We believe that the names of these people are real people, who have the chance to be taught and as has been mentioned, the chance to accpet or reject what they have been presented. For more insight, you can read Doctrine & Covenants 138 (found HERE), which explains how this practice came about and why we do it. Personally, as I have participated in proxy baptisims and other ordinances, I have had very tender expereinces that have let me know that these people have accepted these ordnances and this work.

  31. GeoffB, et al, I am afraid that I have to agree to a great exteant with Leaford on this. Your example of a Brazilian cult is useless because it is a pure hypothetical, a straw man created merely to justify your own conclusions. While you are correct in the technical definition of proxy temple work being of no value unless it is accepted by the spirit of the dead in the afterlife, you still violate the agency of those who are offended by saying that they have no right to be offended. We have exclusive truth claims; it is hard to ignore that, and we know that some will be put off by such claims.

    The difference for me is that my agency has no particular claim to how others will respond to me, even if motivated by love. Perhaps a better analogy is our reaction to the evangelical claims that we as LDS are not Christian. Their claims have no effect on my personal salvation, if I believe that we are right and are on the path to exaltation. But it still bothers me, and I wish I didn’t get a little annoyed. Some in the church choose to get really upset about it. We also claim exclusive rights to the designation Mormon, and we get upset about both the offshoot traditions that use Mormon as an identifying name, or that the media often does not do the job about understanding the difference between us and Warren Jeff’s church.

    In effect your claim that the descendants of Holocaust victims have no right to be upset, is just like other churches calling us non Christian, or us getting upset when some fundamentalist congregation self-describes themselves as Mormon. We ask for respect in the world. We sure ought to allow others the same respect.

  32. I also would like to stand up for Leaford here. I’m an active Mormon who frequently does baptisms for the dead, but I can sense just how offensive it can be for some people.

    We as Mormons should be able to identify with Leaford’s arguments. People hold their ancestry sacred, and they also hold their faith sacred. Their ancestors lived and died for their faith. It’s part of their identity, and the power of that heritage lives on in the lives of their descendants. “True to the faith that our parents have cherished…for which martyrs have perished.” Protecting, celebrating, and carrying on the sacred heritage and faith of ancestors is a powerful, powerful motivation.

    Throughout world history, the Jewish people have seen their sacred heritage despised, destroyed, rewritten, and all but obliterated in Europe. Less than a century ago, millions of Jews were slaughtered in a mass effort to rid the globe of them entirely. Is it any wonder that today they would want to do anything they can to see the sacred heritage of their martyr ancestors protected, celebrated, and lived on in their lives?

    That an upstart American church would come in and seemingly ignore and erase that heritage, adopting them all into their new-fangled faith and family might seem naively condescending at best, and blasphemous at worst.

    Milan Kundera says in Immortality: “The dead lose all rights from the very first second of death. No law protects them any longer from slander, their privacy has ceased to be private; not even the letters written to them by their loved ones, not even the family album left to them by their mothers, nothing, nothing belongs to them any longer. The woman who is dead is a woman with no defenses; she has no more power, she has no more influence; people no longer respect either her wishes or her tastes; the dead woman cannot will anything, cannot aspire to any respect or refute any slander. Never had he felt such sorrowful, such agonizing compassion for her as when she was dead.”

    I too have felt this agonizing compassion for the dead, and have felt the desire to protect their memory, remember them, live on for them, to uphold their desires and wishes. Such a passion for the dead might sometimes even extend to protecting their faith and wishes against those who would naively usurp their will and faith for their own.

    Yet, I continue to baptize the dead. I love the ritual, and I feel the power of God in the ordinance. And I have never felt so close to the dead as I have in the temple. I baptize the dead to honor them, to respect them, to remember them, and to contribute to grafting the human family into a single, living tree. This great harmony, this great unity of family is the ultimate purpose behind baptisms for the dead.

    But if anyone does not want me to baptize their kindred dead, I will respect their wishes. We as yet live in a world divided by tribes and differing religions. But one day, the dream is that we will all be part of one family.

  33. Leaford: I am not splitting hairs at all. You are the one who said that Mormons are inducting dead people into their religion. You are mistaken, and the mistake is not a mere technicality. It is fundamental to your logic. Look, I don’t even believe in baptism for the dead. Furthermore, I have friends and family who perform religious acts on my behalf for me all the time by praying for me, or lighting candles for my loved ones–and I am still alive. It would never occur to me take offense–why would I?

    Suppose some church puts up a sign that says “Everyone is welcome. Just pick up a card from the box outside the door and show it to the usher upon entering.” Is putting cards in the box so they are available to be picked up a religious act that should offend any fair minded person walking down the street? No, of course not. If you don’t want to go in, don’t pick up a card. No big deal. That is all that baptism for the dead is. It is analagous to making available a card which the dead can pick up if they want to and then get into heaven. Does that make sense to me? Absolutely not–but taking offense at Mormons for doing that makes even less sense.

  34. Hence, ask their permission (in the case of the living)or their living relative’s permission (in the case of the dead).

    When someone is alive, we usually don’t ask their relatives if its ok for the living person to be baptized. Once you’re an adult, your family doesn’t get to vote on your religious beliefs. You don’t have to wait around for your great grandkids to all give their approval.

    There’s no reason that should change once you die.

    The fundamental difference between us is that you don’t believe that people continue to live after they die. Or else, if you do, you don’t believe that they continue to think and choose. Because if you did, you would see no particular reason why we’d need to get your family’s permission to proselytize your great-grandpa now that he’s dead, any more than we would when he was alive.

  35. By the way, I should point out that in LDS belief (and in most Christian belief too) Christ did the same rude, offensive thing for everybody that Leaford accuses Mormons of doing for the dead.

    That is, Christ atoned for our sins first and then invites us to accept it second.

  36. There really isn’t any problem here: anyone offended by an LDS baptism may perform an un-baptism on behalf of that individual. If they don’t believe that the LDS religion is true, then it logically has as much potency as an LDS baptism.

    Probably the most efficient way to do this is to merely un-baptize all the dead and living individuals who live or have lived. It can be performed in one ceremony and can even include clauses such as, “to infinity and beyond” and “no take-backs allowed”–thus insuring that all people remain unbaptized to all eternity (again, this only needs to be as efficacious as an LDS baptism, so the wording doesn’t have to be exact).

    Alternatively, the conscientious individual may perform an un-baptism on just those dead who would object to an LDS baptism. This prevents offending those who might be happy that they received an LDS baptism. One can never be too careful.

  37. Does it make any difference that Jesus Christ initiated the practice of baptism for deceased ancestors during the time between his Resurrection and Ascension?
    It was subsequently practiced by Marcionites, an early Christian group, Orthodox Christian groups; Coptics (who even practice it today on occasion); Ethiopian Christians, called Abyssinians; and early Roman Catholics, as reported by Augustine and others. Did the ancestors of Early Christians “become Mormons”?

  38. I’m pretty sure people already do ceremonies to nullify proxy ordinances. I say if it makes them feel better, more power to them.

    The truth is that people can’t own other people. Even other dead people.

    I acknowledge that people may be offended by the proxy ordinances I do for my ancestors and others. But I find the opportunity I offer them worth more than bonhomie. It was that which kept me doing one of the things I hate most for 19 months of my life.

  39. I also want to add that our culture has become attached to offense to the point of worship. There are times and places where another person’s sensibilities cannot control what I do. Being offended is not a trump card that can be used to control other people.

    This balances with a desire to respect others.

    But in this balance, sometimes respect wins and sometimes it doesn’t. There is no reason to apologize for that.

  40. SR, excellent point. People LOVE to be offended. To be fair, there is some of this among Mormons and we should be aware of it. As many modern-day prophets have pointed out, you can choose not to be offended.

  41. There is a point that is being missed in a few of the comments here is that those of us who feel the Church should not do proxy baptisms for Holocaust victims are not attacking the doctrine of baptism for the dead. It’s obviously a huge part of our devotion and symbolic of our view of the plan of salvation. Nonetheless, I do believe that we should respect the choices of those who ask us not to do this.

    It’s like some of the chronic non-attending members who are on our ward lists, but don’t want home teachers, don’t want a visit from the Bishop, and also don’t want to remove their names from church rolls. If they ask us not to bother them, we should respect that. Respecting the agency and wishes of others ought to be a primary concern for us, right up there with concern for their eternal welfare. All of this work can also be done in the millennium. I submit there is plenty of temple work for us to do without stepping on the toes of those who, for valid reasons or not, ask us not to.

  42. KevinF, I agree with your comment #50 that as a tactical move it is best for the Church not to do proxy baptisms for Holocaust victims. As you say, it can be done in the Millennium. I pointed this out way up in comment #20.

  43. All of this talk about how others should not take offense reminds me of a poem. It is primarily about forgiveness, but also about charity, and about our sense of our own correctness. It’s called “Forgiveness Flour,” by Marguerite Stewart:

    When I went to the door, at the whisper of knocking,
    I saw Simeon Gantner’s daughter, Kathleen, standing
    There, in her shawl and her shame, sent to ask
    “Forgiveness Flour” for her bread. “Forgiveness Flour,”
    We call it in our corner. If one has erred, one
    Is sent to ask for flour of his neighbors. If they loan it
    To him, that means he can stay, but if they refuse, he had
    Best take himself off. I looked at Kathleen . . .
    What a jewel of a daughter, though not much like her
    Father, more’s the pity. “I’ll give you flour,” I
    Said, and went to measure it. Measuring was the rub.
    If I gave too much, neighbors would think I made sin
    Easy, but if I gave too little, they would label me
    “Close.” While I stood measuring, Joel, my husband
    Came in from the mill, a great bag of flour on his
    Shoulder, and seeing her there, shrinking in the
    Doorway, he tossed the bag at her feet. “Here, take
    All of it.” And so she had flour for many loaves,
    While I stood measuring.

    [Marguerite Stewart, “Forgiveness Flour,” Religious Studies Center Newsletter 7, no. 3
    (May 1993): 1]

    Are we spending too much time on this topic “measuring?” I hope not.

  44. I wish that I could confirm if this was true, but will take their word for now. What a wonderful response by a non-Mormon and one taken in the spirit of the reason proxy work exists.

  45. Hmm. Hard to say, as it contradicts what Arun is proported to have said in the Huffington Post – Arun Gandhi, a grandson of Mahatma Gandhi who lives in Rochester, N.Y., said he was ” surprised” to hear about the posthumous baptism. “It bothers me in the sense that people are doing something when a person is dead and gone and there is nobody to answer for that person. That’s not the right thing to do,” said Gandhi, an activist who teaches nonviolence. He also noted that his grandfather was against proselytizing of any kind, whether it involved Hindus or others. “He thought people must decide for themselves which religion they want to follow and they should follow that religion. It’s not up to others to force them. He was respectful of all the religions.”

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