In our view
For the third time in a decade, LDS and Jewish leaders are discussing the practice of vicarious baptisms for Holocaust victims.
Two Jewish groups claim the church has reneged on a 1995 agreement and a 2002 promise to stop church members from submitting the names of Holocaust victims and Jews for temple ordinances.
The Holocaust victims are seen as religious martyrs and baptizing them as Christians, to some Jewish observers, belittles their deaths.
The church has agreed to sit down and discuss the concerns and look for ways to improve the system to ensure that names aren’t being submitted without the consent of relatives.
It’s easy to dismiss the Jewish groups as overreacting and taking offense where none is intended. After all, if you don’t believe in the LDS Church’s doctrine of salvation for the dead, then its temple ordinances could be taken as empty gestures with no significant meaning.
LDS Church members do the temple work as an act of love and devotion. It’s not an attempt to draft unwilling souls into the church. Church members believe that the dead still can choose their religion in the afterlife, and LDS temple ordinances merely allow them, if they choose, to enjoy certain blessings that are said to come from those ordinances.
But the Jewish groups do have a point. It says the LDS Church agreed that it would remove the names of Holocaust victims from the International Genealogical Index and would restrict members to submitting only names of deceased relatives or those whose next of kin have consented.
When those names appear again on the list, it give the impression that the church is ignoring its agreements.
From what we can see, the LDS Church has upheld the deal to the best of its ability. It has removed more than 400,000 names from the IGI, turning over genealogical data on Holocaust victims to the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington. The church also has issued directives to members not to submit the names of non-relatives for temple ordinances without permission from the next of kin.
But when you’re talking about a church of 12 million people scattered around the world, ensuring 100-percent compliance can be difficult, if not impossible.
President D. Todd Christofferson of the church’s Quorum of the Seventy, said the church will conduct an investigation and work with Jewish groups to improve the process without compromising church beliefs.
There are a couple of ways the church could refine the process to screen out inappropriate submissions.
One would be to tighten procedures for verifying permission from next-of-kin. The presumption is that members have that permission when they submit the names, and most church members do when they submit genealogical records for temple work. But more verification might give greater assurance to Jewish groups, rather than just taking someone’s word for it.
The church also might look for a technological safeguard to guarantee that people do not perform baptisms on behalf of dead Holocaust victims to whom they have no relation. Perhaps the computer software that reviews name submissions could be programmed to red-flag any requests that list the place of death as a concentration camp. Then, the person submitting the record could be asked to provide proof that the dead person is a relative, or that he has secured the requisite permission. Such a system would not prevent Jewish names from appearing in LDS genealogical records. It only would ensure that they don’t appear by surprise.
That is a position that should satisfy both church members and the Jewish groups.