Since 1840, members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints have been encouraged to perform baptisms in temples for their deceased relatives.
However, the Mormon baptism of hundreds of thousands of Jewish Holocaust victims created a 15-year controversy for the Salt Lake City-based church. On Sept. 1, the church made an agreement with Jewish leaders, acknowledging that the practice had “unintentionally caused pain,” with an LDS pledge to American Jewish leaders to stop the practice.
Yet church critics say it’s easier said than done, and the Holocaust exception doesn’t stop the secret proxy baptisms of people of all faiths without their closest family members’ consent or knowledge.
Genealogical researcher and ex-Mormon Helen Radkey, who helped uncover the baptisms of Holocaust victims, said she doubts that the agreement, which promised more computer-system controls, will be the end of the problem.
“Members can still put in the name of non-relatives,” Radkey said.
Church spokeswoman Kim Farah acknowledged: “The system will never be perfect, but we feel we have achieved balance and respect.” […]
Despite the publicity, rebaptizing people who chose other faiths during their lifetimes is one of the Mormons’ “most sacred expressions of faith,” Elder T. Todd Christofferson, a member of the LDS Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, said in a written statement.
The LDS church teaches that its sacrament of baptism is required for entry into the kingdom of heaven.
For those souls who lived before Joseph Smith founded the LDS church in 1830, and for those who lived after Smith but weren’t baptized Mormon, the church provides temple baptism of the dead by proxy.
The church doesn’t recognize other denominations’ baptisms because it believes that, after Jesus Christ was crucified and the Apostles martyred, a time of darkness ensued until Prophet Joseph Smith restored true Christianity on earth.
The church holds that temple baptisms must eventually be performed for everyone who was not baptized into the faith in this life. […]
Church authorities ask the 13.5 million members around the world, and 137,000 in Colorado, to voluntarily comply with the policy that they stick to their own family members, however distantly related, rather than perform the ceremony for celebrities and historical figures.
Before performing baptisms for a dead family member born within the last 95 years, members are instructed to get permission from the person’s closest living relative, church policy states. Many do not.
“Church members are getting a mixed message,” Radkey said. “They’re told: ‘Here are the rules.’ But, on the other hand, ‘Every soul must be offered salvation.'”