Apparently, there will be a new meeting between Church representatives and Jewish leaders this weekend over the issue of posthumous Jewish baptisms. Jewish leaders say they have new evidence that the Church is still baptizing the Jewish dead despite a 1995 agreement on the issue.
Here is the AP story on this:
Jews, Mormons to Meet Over Baptisms
By MARK THIESSEN
SALT LAKE CITY (AP) – Jewish leaders claim Mormons continue to posthumously baptize Jews and Holocaust victims, and will confront church leaders with a decade of frustration over what they call broken promises.
“We have proof, and we are bringing that,” said Ernest Michel, chairman of the New York-based World Gathering of Jewish Holocaust Survivors.
The Mormon church has long collected names from government documents and other records worldwide for posthumous baptisms. Church members stand in for the deceased non-Mormons, a ritual the church says is required for the dead to reach heaven. The church believes individuals’ ability to choose a religion continues beyond the grave.
Michel plans to show posthumous baptism records to church officials in meetings Sunday and Monday (meaning April 10 and 11). He says the records prove tens of thousands of Jews, including some who died in Nazi concentration camps, were posthumously baptized over the past 10 years and as recently as last month.
A 1995 agreement signed by Jewish leaders and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints called for an immediate halt to unwanted proxy baptisms. After evidence was found in the church’s massive International Genealogical Index that the baptisms for many Jews – including Anne Frank – continued, the two faiths reaffirmed the agreement in 2002.
Jewish leaders in New York have bitterly complained the baptisms never stopped, and last year asked Democratic Sen. Hillary Clinton to intervene. She met with Sen. Orrin Hatch, an Utah Republican and active Mormon, though neither side would discuss what was said.
The church, too, declined comment Thursday. “The church won’t be commenting at all on this issue for the moment. We are looking forward to discussions with our Jewish guests,” spokeswoman Kim Farah said.
Under the Mormon practice, most Catholic popes have been proxy baptized, as have historical figures like Ghengis Khan, Joan of Arc, Adolf Hitler, Josef Stalin and Buddha, according to Helen Radkey, an independent genealogical researcher in Salt Lake City.
However, the church directed its members after 1995 to not include for baptism the names of Jewish Holocaust victims, celebrities and people who aren’t relatives.
The church also assumes the closest living relative of the deceased being offered for proxy baptism has consented.
Carol Skydell, also a researcher, said that didn’t happen when her paternal grandparents and aunt and uncle apparently were given a baptism by proxy. She found their proxy baptism records in 2002.
“Nobody asked me, nobody asked my cousin. It’s ridiculous,” Skydell said.
As a convert to the Church, I have found this controversy somewhat difficult to understand. If you are not a Church member, and don’t believe that the Church has sealing power, who cares what a bunch of weird Mormons do with your relative’s name? Some Jews don’t believe in resurrection and have a very different idea of the afterlife than Mormons do. So, if the Mormon idea of the afterlife is not correct, any proxy baptism done on this Earth will have no effect at all.
This web page gives another viewpoint. It points out that Catholics forced Jews to be baptized for hundreds of years and says it is an attempt to rewrite the history of people who are Jewish. They fear that over time people who are offered proxy baptism will have their Jewish nature erased and will go down in history as Mormons, not Jews. It also points out that other churches, including Armenians and the Russian Orthodox church, have objected to posthumous baptism of their people.
There are several issues here. The first is that the Church made a commitment in 1995 and should stick to that commitment. The Church reaffirmed in 2002 that it was sticking to that commitment. But there is another, more difficult issue. Baptismal records in the temple don’t include the faith of the person who is being baptized. Anybody who has preformed baptisms in the temple may have been baptized for a Jewish person — there’s no way of knowing for sure. I’m pretty sure the Church is not going to start insisting that only people whose faith is known — and is not Jewish, Armenian or Russian Orthodox — can be baptized. How are you going to know for sure the faith of somebody born in Germany in 1784?
The other issue is that there appears to be a grave misunderstanding on the part of most people about the Church’s belief of the process of baptism. Baptizing somebody in the temple doesn’t mean the dead person suddenly becomes a Mormon (which is what I’m sure 99 percent of the people opposed to the Church policy believe). It means that the person will be given the opportunity of joining the Church of Jesus Christ in the spirit world. I see a process where a missionary and representative of the Church in the spirit world visits the deceased person and offers him or her the possibility of being taught about the Church and accepting the posthumous baptism that has been performed. But of course this person can also say, “I’m Jewish” and turn down this opportunity. So in effect opposing posthumous baptism is an attempt to limit the free choice of those in the spirit world.
But, again, if you don’t buy the Mormon view of the world, the baptism has no effect at all.
I’d be curious what others in the bloggernacle think about this issue.