Mormon Church apologizes for Jewish baptisms for the dead

Volunteer's access to database revoked after Holocaust survivor's name is submitted

Published: Wednesday, Feb. 15 2012 7:44 a.m. MST

"The practice is rooted in the belief that certain sacred sacraments, such as baptism, are required to enter the kingdom of heaven and that a just God will give everyone who ever lived a fair opportunity to receive them, whether in this life or the next," the website article explains. "Church members who perform temple baptisms for their deceased relatives are motivated by love and sincere concern for the welfare of all of God's children. According to church doctrine, a departed soul in the afterlife is completely free to accept or reject such a baptism — the offering is freely given and must be freely received. The church has never claimed the power to force deceased persons to become church members or Mormons, and it does not list them as such on its records. The notion of coerced conversion is utterly contrary to church doctrine."

According to Purdy, "the policy of the church is that members can request these baptisms only for their own ancestors. Proxy baptisms of Holocaust survivors are strictly prohibited."

In the case of the Elie Wiesel, Trotter said his name would have eventually been rejected for posthumous baptism because he is still living.

"The submitter mistakenly entered information into a field that indicated that individual was deceased," said Trotter. "Once it was determined that this person is still living, that name was removed, since we do not include information on living persons in our database."

Purdy acknowledged that names are occasionally submitted in violation of policy. Regardless of the intention of the submitter, he said, such submissions are considered "a serious breach of protocol."

According to the church website, however, such submissions "are also extremely difficult to prevent because the temple baptism process depends on voluntary compliance by millions of church members around the world. The church nearly always learns about problems after the fact."

"It is distressing when an individual willfully violates the church's policy," Purdy said, "and something that should be understood to be an offering based on love and respect becomes a source of contention. The church will continue to do all it can to prevent such instances, including denying access to these genealogical records or other privileges to those who abuse them in this way."

For Rabbi Benny Zippel of Chabad Lubavitch of Utah, the whole issue is a tempest in a teapot.

"It's totally meaningless as far as I'm concerned," he said. "For someone to go into the water and say some words and be immersed — why does it matter? To me, it doesn't. I would just let it go."

Rabbi Zippel bases his feelings on the Jewish concept of conversion, which requires thorough research, intense study and approval by a rabbinical court.

"You cannot possibly have a person convert without their knowledge," he said. "So to me, when we're dealing with posthumous conversion, it's an oxymoron. If it is a conversion, it can't be posthumous; if it is posthumous, it cannot be conversion."

So as far as Rabbi Zippel is concerned, LDS baptism for the dead is "a non-issue."

"I'm not offended by it," he said, "because to me, it is meaningless. So why should I care?"

EMAIL: jwalker@desnews.com

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