As a former Mormon (as members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints are known), I felt that I had to address the recent news story about the proxy baptism of President Obama’s dead mother. Proxy baptism of the dead is a practice integral to Mormon doctrine, and its purpose is to unite families in the afterlife, giving the dead the “opportunity to hear and accept the gospel in the spirit world.”
Church officials are now stating that it is not the practice of the LDS church to perform such proxy baptism without family members’ permission. That is, at best, disingenuous and, at worst, an outright lie. Until 1995, LDS church members could submit names of any deceased person for proxy baptism, even in the absence of any relationship. In 1995, Jewish groups became rightly outraged when they discovered that Mormons were posthumously baptizing Jewish Holocaust victims into the LDS church. At that point, official church policy became that only family members could give permission for a proxy baptism.
However, no mechanism has ever been instituted for Mormon Church officials to obtain that permission. Quite odd for a church that prides itself on its organizational efficiency, isn’t it? Almost makes one think that LDS priesthood leaders are only paying lip-service to the concept of family permission.
Oddly enough, the argument that one frequently hears from Mormons about this issue is, “If we’re wrong, then it doesn’t matter. If we’re right, you’ll thank us in the hereafter.” They’re completely missing the point.
This is about boundaries and behaving like decent, civilized individuals who respect others’ beliefs. The problem is that within the culture of Mormonism, one is inculcated so thoroughly to believe that one has “The Truth” that little things like boundaries, decency and even laws can make little difference to the zealous Mormon seeking to further the “building up of Zion.”
After all, the church intruded on the right of same-sex couples to marry, pumping huge amounts of dollars from church coffers (there is an IRS investigation pending on this) into California to pass Prop. 8, so why would the same church balk at baptizing a dead person without family permission? (Incidentally, Adolph Hitler, Elvis Presley and Pope John Paul II have all received the dead-dunking procedure at Mormon hands.)
To all you Mormons out there who still might think of trying to justify yourselves about all this, try this one on for size: Suppose a bunch of us ex-Mormons start doing proxy excommunications for dead Mormons without permission of those dead Mormons’ families? I mean, if we’re wrong, it makes no difference, and if we’re right, then your relatives will thank us for getting them out of a bizarre cult in the afterlife, right? Yeah, I didn’t think you’d be OK with that. Shoe is on the other foot now, isn’t it? Try to use some compassion and consideration for people in the future, no matter how alien a concept might be to you.
Tom Becham is a resident of Oxnard.