Nauvoo temple was not involved in practice.
NAUVOO, Ill. ï¿½ A 158ï¿½yearï¿½old Church of Jesus Christ of Latterï¿½day Saints ordinance pertaining to baptism for the dead is in the final stages of being redefined with respect to inclusion of Jews who died during the Holocaust.
Requests from family members of Jews executed during World War II that the church not include those individuals began several years ago.
The result of that protest was an agreement between church officials and the World Gathering of Jewish Holocaust Survivors in 1995 that the deceased in question be removed from the church’s database of individuals eligible for baptism by proxy.
“I consider this an insult. I don’t like them to impose their beliefs on me,” said Ernest Michel, chairman of the organization.
Elder Jack Renouf, director of public affairs in Nauvoo, said the temple in Nauvoo was not involved in the practice, but added that not all Jews are opposed to the idea.
“There probably are some names that inadvertently, or intentionally, have been added to the list,” he said. “At the same time, there are rabbi associations who have said, ‘Gee whiz! What’s all the fuss about?’ “
The church operates the program based on the assumption that the closest living relative of the deceased has consented to be baptized in proxy.
Offering baptism for the dead originally was intended for the church’s membership, and was one of the first ordinances put in place by the church when the first temple was located in Nauvoo in 1846.
Renouf clarified that the offer of baptism for the dead is not one of absolution, but an offer of choice.
“It’s an offer for the dead to be able to choose to be saved or not,” Renouf said.
Some 400,000 names of Holcaust victims have been removed and the church continues to delete names when asked.
But 20,000 Jews were discovered in the church’s International Genealogical Index, including Anne Frank, as recently as 2002.
Although church leaders have ordered the practice stopped, some members have continued the practice of baptism for the dead by proxy including Jews killed during the Holocaust.
Identifying those who are in defiance of the church order is often a problem of its own, Renouf said.
And church officials have offered no guarantee of universal compliance.
“Obviously, some names leaked through,” Renouf said.
“The church has 117 temples operating worldwide, so you can imagine how difficult it is to track all the names and who is involved.”
But Michel’s organization wants to see the process pick up speed and has requested the assistance of Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, Dï¿½N.Y., in convincing the church to stop the practice altogether.
Should negotiating efforts prove ineffective, Michel has said his group will consider other options in resolving the matter, including legal action.