Responding to — and explaining — LDS baptisms for the dead

Published: Friday, Feb. 17 2012 6:00 p.m. MST

Why do Mormons practice proxy baptism for the dead? ("Historically, Christians have been exclusive," Givens says. "Catholics have taught that only Catholics are saved, and evangelicals say only if you confess according to their tradition. Mormons say, "No, salvation is open to all people.' In that sense, Mormonism is the most nonexclusive religion in the Christian world.")

So are all those who are baptized after death considered Mormon? ("No," Gilgoff wrote. "Mormons believe that baptism provides the deceased with the opportunity to join The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, but not the obligation. 'This is about putting names on the guest list,' says Givens. 'They might not go to the party, but they are given the chance.’ ”

What are Mormon baptism ceremonies like? ("Baptisms for the dead happen inside Mormon temples," Gilgoff wrote. "Members of the LDS Church volunteer to undergo full immersion baptism while the names of the dead are read. An LDS member might participate in 10 or so posthumous proxy baptisms at a time. Young Mormons are especially encouraged to participate as a way to participate in temple life.")

All of which is an interesting part of the overarching news story about Latter-day Saints, the Jewish community and baptisms for the dead. But according to Washington Post On Faith panelist and blogger Brad Hirschfield, it isn't the most important part of the story.

"The real story lies in the reaction of those in the Jewish community who are making a mountain of this mole hill, especially in light of the church's unequivocal apology for the event having occurred and their punishing the offender," Hirschfield wrote. "To the extent that such rituals indicate that people who lived and died as Jews still require repair of their souls or spiritual status, there is going to be hurt. That any group clings to doctrines that trumpet their own spiritual superiority or unique access to heaven, to me, is problematic as well, but that is hardly a unique feature of the LDS. In fact, all traditions, including Judaism, have such intellectual strands running through them."

Hirschfield suggests that the events of the past week provide "a genuine opportunity."

"The issue is not what was done," he wrote, "but what comes next."

When faith communities come into conflict, Hirschfield said, the important thing "is how we presume the best about each other and open better lines of communication based not only on being better understood and respected by others, but by showing them greater levels of respect and understanding."

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