The personal side of LDS proxy baptism

Published: Thursday, Feb. 23 2012 4:19 p.m. MST

Michael Otterson, LDS Managing Director of Public Affairs, issues a church statement in response to Human Rights Campaign petition.

Michael Brandy, Deseret News

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The practice of proxy baptisms for deceased ancestors by members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is addressed from a personal perspective by a blogger on the Washington Post's "On Faith" blog site.

Calling it "one of the most intensely significant religious experiences of my life," Michael Otterson, director of Public Affairs for the LDS Church, tells of going to the church's temple in New Zealand in 1970 and being baptized in behalf of his father, who died in a motorcycle accident when Otterson was 9 months old.

"I grew up with no personal memory of him – only a vague sense of loose ends and unanswered questions," Otterson wrote. "The temple experience, however, changed all that … No longer a cipher or question mark, he has become for me a real person, and my love for him has become every bit as real as for that of the mother with whom I grew up."

Such feelings grow out of a practice that is not just "a highly developed hobby," Otterson said. "They reflect a key practice in our faith and are rooted in biblical teachings."

Otterson's blog explained the reasons behind the LDS practice of proxy baptism, describing it as a "labor of love" that doesn't impose church membership on his departed father but makes it possible for him if he so chooses.

"In my own heart, I want to believe he accepted it, but I cannot know that now," Otterson wrote. "What I am certain of, however, is that in whatever cognizance of this life that exists in heaven, that my father will not be offended for a gift generously intended and sincerely given by his son. The worst I can imagine is a 'Thanks, but no thanks.'"

Otterson also addressed the recent controversy over the inappropriate proxy baptisms of Jewish Holocaust victims, which he attributed to the "improper action" of "someone (who) violated church policy."

"The church is looking at every way it can both to educate its members and address the deficiencies of technology," he wrote. "I am confident that it will continue to do all it can to resolve legitimate concerns while preserving the core doctrines of the faith."

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