Sunday, November 23, 2008

Vicarious Baptisms for Holocaust Victims

I understand that this post may be a bit untimely, seeing as how several months ago the Catholics decided to seal their genealogical records to the LDS Church, and a few weeks ago Jewish Holocaust survivors decided to cut off discussions with the LDS Church regarding the inadvertent baptisms of Holocause victims. In the interim, I was expecting the Church to step forward with some sort of statement or action that I could use in my post. Lacking such a statement, I nevertheless would like to briefly comment on the issue.

In my opinion, the ordinance known as baptism for the dead is a merciful ordinance that shows the extent of love by our Father in Heaven. Indeed, God is just and cannot send a person to hell simply because he or she had the misfortune of never hearing about the Savior. It is LDS doctrine that deceased beings, dwelling as spirits and awaiting the time of resurrection and judgment, are given the opportunity to hear and accept the message of the Gospel. Many on the other side will not accept Him, but God nevertheless reaches out to each of His children and implores them to follow Him. Personally, having done it several times, I can affirm that it is a marvelous and spiritual experience.

Upon reading the thousands of comments after the numerous articles that deal with the Jewish Holocaust survivors and their decistion to cut off discussions with the Church, a couple of interesting lines of thought were consistent among the readers:

1) Many were outraged that the LDS Church would have the audacity to "convert" their ancestors post-humously. Each was sure that members of the LDS Church would be equally outraged if other religious denominations attempted to post-humously "convert" their ancestors. One commentor (using quite colorful language) was sure that the LDS would vehemently object if the Pope one day declared Brigham Young or Joseph Smith flull-fledged Catholics.

As described above, the LDS practice does not "convert" the recipient, but only provides them with a correct baptism in the event they accept the Gospel in its fullest. Indeed, baptism is only the gateway and lacks the essential keys to exalt any individual.

Personally, I would be touched by the love and concern expressed by another religion that desired to do any sort of proxy ordinance that, in their minds, would ensure a better after-life for my ancestors. I venture to think that many LDS would agree. I fail to see the "disrespect" to our ancestors in an act wholly backed by the love of our fellow-man.

2) Many commentors were astounded at the attention that this is getting by other denominations and religions. In their minds, and I tend to agree, if detractors believe the LDS Church is a false religion, and its ordinances equally false, why would they care if vicarious work was performed on behalf of their ancestors? Wouldn't the outright falsity of the ordinance eliminate any need to worry whether the ordinance had any effect at all?

While we understand from 1 Pet. 3:18-20 and 4:6 that the souls in the spirit world are being taught the Gospel, they are faced with a significant dilemma: they need baptism to enter into a covenant with Christ and receive a washing away of their sins, etc., but they lack physical bodies in which to be baptized. This is why the restored Church includes the practice of baptism for the dead. The ordinance is simply a further testament to God's unending love for His children.

I would like to hear reader's comments on why other denominations or religions are so upset at an ordinance that they outright deny to be correct.


Anonymous said...

They're not certain Mormons are wrong. And they feel, by golly, if they are going to reject the gospel and go to hell, by golly, so are their ancestors.

Jeremy said...

Insecurity may be a valid reason. It would be interesting to see how people's reactions would change if they truly understood the ordinance. From reading numerous comments and perusing other denominations' web blogs, I found that the majority of the anger stemmed from a doctrinal misunderstanding. In essence, to the outside observer, there may not be anything different in vicariously baptizing a deceased individual or praying for that same individual as the Catholics do.

On that same note, when my mother died, I understand that a few of her Catholic co-workers planned on praying for her soul for the after-life. That does not enrage me, but instead demonstrates the love that they had for her. In my opinion, the same can equally be said of the attempt to help the Holocaust victims.

Thanks for your thoughts.

Dan Knudsen said...

When my wife's older brother, Monte, died more than 11 years ago, a very close family friend came to the funeral and announced that he and his wife had a mass said for him. We weren't the least bit offended in their desire to help Monte in any way they could, and thanked them for their thoughtfulness and caring. None of the Protestant friends tried to help in any way--did they not care? Did the mass make a difference for Monte in the afterlife? Who cares? They did what they could and that's what really counts. It certainly didn't hurt Monte any.

Jeremy said...

Well said, Dan.

Anonymous said...

Imagine you are an old man who lived through the Holocaust. You and your family were sent to a concentration camp because you would not deny your religion, your God, your basic core values. Because of your families loyalty to their God they would not betray Him. They would rather suffer torture, starvation, beatings, loss of loved ones, even death than denounce their religion. Most of us cannot even comprehend how they suffered in the name of religion. Now fast forward to 2008 and a Christian religion has just declared that in a split second they baptized your brother who died for the cause of Judeaism. I can see why a person would be infuriated. Of course they don't understand that just because their loved one was baptized doesn't mean that the person accepts the ordinance, but that is a profound Mormon Doctrine that most people do not understand. When they hear that a person was baptized into another religion they assume that that religion considers them their own. It is different than telling someone that you are praying for their lost loved one.

Hans said...

Don't get religioun confused with race in this context. Hitler contrued Jews as a race that was defined by religion. If a Jew was willing to denounce his religion, he would have had the same fate for it was his race. It was an immutable trait to the Nazis, the same way as were Gypsies, handicapped and homosexuals. To the Nazi, a Jew could not get out of the camp by converting to Christianity the same way that a Gypsy could not renounce being a Gypsy.

Much of the anger comes from baptizing someone who died for their relgion as was perceived by the victims whereas the murderers saw it as a trait that was part of their DNA.

In any case, this is new ground we are breaking so both sides need to come together in dialogue for understanding. Like missionary work, we try and do something through the front door and not the back door. Tough situation.

Anonymous said...

How would you feel if someone suddenly signed you up for, say, an insurance seminar or a new product presentation without your knowledge?

And then, as you're having a busy day at work, a representative calls you up and says "Hi, you were referred to us by.... and we would like to invite you to... "

Now for some people, they may not be bothered and just shrug it off by just saying, "oh, thanks, but no thank you... " But for the others, they would definitely be be annoyed, and for a small few, they would even be outraged that a trusted friend or someone close would refer them.

Now those are the kinds of feelings some have towards LDS proxy baptism. There is no harm done, but it is the FEELINGS here that matter.

Sometimes, we really have to wear the shoes of others to understand how they feel.

Jeremy said...

I think Hans stated it correctly, that the Holocaust victims died not because of their religion, but because of their DNA. That said, I don't think it's that hard to "wear the shoes of others to understand how they feel," since all of us have likely felt some sort of racial discrimination. For example, Hans and I were clear victims of reverse race discrimination in law school where each available scholarship could only be received by either a minority or a female.

On a separate note, the Nazi's did discriminate based on religion in the case of the Jehovah's Witnesses (JW). Apparently, the JW's were quite antagonistic against the Nazi regime, and were silenced as a reault. Like the Star of David for the Jewish individuals, the JW's were required to don a purple triangle to differentiate them as "religious zealots" and a threat to Hitler's power. Several thousand JW's were sent to concentration camps and some remained there until 1945.

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Bookslinger said...

Jeremy, I don't think you quite get why Jews are outraged over the LDS vicarious baptisms. Anonymous gets close to the reason.

I'm a Jewish convert to the LDS religion.

Of course Jews don't think we're actually "converting" dead people or the souls of dead people.

Baptism for the dead is perceived as _pretending_ to convert dead people. And more importantly, it's perceived as an insult to the memory of the dead.

Maybe some Jews do perceive us as _thinking_ we're converting people, because a baptism signifies or represents a conversion to a Jew.

I think the church also publishes this information on the net, as to who has had their temple work done, as well as internal files used by Family History.

So, in essence, the church is _perceived_ as saying "Look! We turned your dead Jewish grandfather into a Christian! Ha ha!"

By doing this, we are also declaring that the Abrahamic and Mosaic covenants between God and the Jews/Hebrews are not sufficient to "save", which has always been a bone of contention between Christian and Jew.

Even most mainstream Christians don't get this. Most mainstream Christians don't see Christianity as the proper _extension_ of the Abrahamic covenant.

You also have to understand the history of "forced conversions" on the Jews. This harkens back to the Inquisition, and also sorts of pogroms and persecutions, not just the Holocaust of WWII.

Jeremy, you can _say_ what the vicarious ordinances are intended to be, but you aren't going to change the perception with your condescending "it's not a bad thing, we really love Jews" line of reasoning.

You just don't get how extremely insulting our vicarious temple work is to Jews.

I'm not sure what the best way to approach the subject is without having to explain a ton of background information. The Jews are incensed over this, and not immediately open to learning what our true intentions are, and are not in a position to think through what the spirits of the deceased might think of all this.

If you can think on this, you might get headed in the right direction: A Jew would say "We don't need your religion, there's no reason for us to convert because God has already made a covenant with our people, we're already chosen, we're already on God's side. For you to 'pretend' to convert our dead grandparents, or in any way imply that they 'need' to convert is an insult to our religion, our tradition, and to the covenants that God made with Abraham and Moses."

Similar to how mainstream Christians look down on "pagans", or how Mormons look down on mainstream Christians, that is how Jews look down on Christians and other gentiles.

In their eyes, our temple ordinances are pretending to bring their dead ancestors "down" to a pagan/gentile level.

So all this "we do it out of love" stuff is just further aggravation to them.

You also need to understand that Jews look down upon Mormons in the same way as Jews look down upon mainstream Christians. Mormons and mainstream (creedal) Christians are in the same boat, as far as Jews are concerned.

And you need to appreciate the long long history of friction, persecution, and outright hatred that most Christians have had for Jews for almost 2,000 years now.

Your explanations just further play into the age-old problems.

Jeremy said...

Bookslinger, if the Jews perceive this as "pretending" to convert the dead, then I still don't see the issue. According to your explanation, the Jewish community admits the fallacy of the LDS ordinance. So who's problem is this, really?

In my opinion, anyone that firmly believes in the doctrine they espouse and practice has no need to be incensed by "incorrect" or "unfounded" opposition. As LDS (or even Christians) we find oppostion on a daily basis. But those whose foundation is built upon faith and pure testimony have no need to fret, even in the face of evidence, for example, that seemingly disproves the BofM or Joseph Smith as a prophet of God.

You're right that I don't quite "get why Jews are outraged over the LDS vicarious baptisms." If they are right, we are wrong, and our actions shouldn't mean anything to them, regardless of the centuries of persecution they have had to endure.

Hans said...

I don't think that this is ever going to be an easy one for Jews or others persecuted for their faith to accept. But at the end of the day, in the next life what do we do? How would you explain to someone there that they couldn't accept the Gospel because someone after them thought it was offensive. Tough issue that will not have a short term solution.