Baptisms for the Easily Offended


Once I’m dead, I invite all worshippers of all other religious faiths to use this post as blanket permission to posthumously baptize me into their faith. Have at it, boys. Do what you will. Hindus, reincarnate me as anything canine, feline, or bovine. Scientologists, give my regards to Xenu. If you’d like to make a voodoo doll and poke and prod me until you’ve had enough, feel free. Call me whatever you like; just don’t call me late for dinner. Actually, go ahead and call me late for dinner, since, you know, I’ll be dead and everything.

I bring this up because the Salt Lake Tribune is rife with letters to the editor from folks who are still furious with the LDS Church for our practice of proxy baptisms for those who have died. For those of you unfamiliar with the concept of Baptisms for the Dead, rest assured that it does not involve corpses, grave digging, or Keith Richards. Latter-day Saints believe that the family is eternal, and that baptism by the proper priesthood authority is essential for exaltation in the Kingdom of God. Therefore, living people stand in proxy in LDS Temples for deceased ancestors and are baptized on their behalf.

This cheeses off a lot of people, and, for the life of me, I don’t understand why.

It reached a head when, a few years back, a large Jewish organization convinced the Church to remove all names gathered from records of the Holocaust, insisting that posthumously baptizing Jews was a horrific affront to the Jewish people and the suffering they endured under the Third Reich. They asked that Mormons remove all Jewish names from their lists, but, of course, that would be all but impossible. The Church agreed, however, to forgo the use of Jewish records as they gather their names to perform this ceremony.

Here’s where I fail to see the problem. In the first place, Judaism, along with every other major and minor religion in the world, does not recognize the Mormon priesthood as binding, effective, or authoritative, so why do they care what those kooky Mormons do in their spare time? Protesting the ceremony grants it a legitimacy that surely the Jews themselves never intended. If Mormon baptisms are essentially meaningless, then why acknowledge them at all?

In the second place, Mormon doctrine maintains that acceptance of the baptism is entirely voluntary. If someone wants to remain a Jew in the life to come, then they will be free to do so. Perhaps the offer to join the LDS Church via proxy baptism might be slightly annoying to said Jew, perhaps the equivalent of astral junk mail. But that’s assuming that the what the Mormons are doing has any efficacy to begin with. And if you believe that’s the case, then why aren’t you joining the Church while you’re alive?

What Mormons are proposing is an act of charity. It is given out of love, and it is not done with any intent to diminish the mortal lives of those who are offered the gift. If the gift is unwanted, so be it. How does it diminish anyone to have such a gft offered to them? At the same time, I fail to see how one preserves the integrity of their own religion by attacking mine.

So have at it, Buddhists and Muslims and Zoroastrians. Baptize away. I’m confident that God has it all under control, and he’ll sort it all out.

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