An incredible story just hit the wires involving Mormons and their 'baptism for the dead' rituals via the LA Times
The Mormon Church apologized Tuesday for a "serious breach of protocol" after it was discovered that the parents of the late Nazi hunter Simon Wiesenthal were posthumously baptized as Mormons. The church also acknowledged that one of its members tried to baptize posthumously three relatives of Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel.
The efforts, at least in Wiesenthal's case, violated the terms of an agreement that the church signed in 1995, in which it agreed to stop baptizing Jewish victims of the Holocaust. Wiesenthal and Wiesel gained fame for careers spent grappling with the legacy of the Holocaust, Wiesenthal by hunting down war criminals, Wiesel by writing books that became part of the canon of 20th century literature.
Coming at a time when the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is in the public eye as perhaps never before, the revelations could prove embarrassing — and, conceivably, influence perceptions of presidential candidate Mitt Romney's faith.
Posthumous baptism is common in the Mormon Church. The purpose is to ensure that ancestors can join church members in the afterlife. Individual Mormons submit to the church the names of persons they wish to have baptized, then undergo baptism "by proxy."
However, the practice has sometimes offended those of other faiths whose ancestors are baptized by proxy by enthusiastic Mormons. That is especially true of the families of Jewish victims of the Holocaust, whose outcries prompted the 1995 agreement.
You may remember that the LDS Church posthumously baptized the late mother of President Obama into the Mormon faith.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints confirmed Tuesday afternoon that someone improperly, posthumously baptized the late mother of President Obama into the Mormon faith.Last June 4 — the day after then-Sen. Obama secured enough delegates to win the Democratic presidential nominee — someone had the president’s mother Stanley Ann Dunham, who died in 1995 of cancer, baptized. On June 11, she received the endowment.
The baptism and endowment which appear on FamilySearch.org, the LDS Church’s genealogical site, were first reported by John Aravosis at the liberal Americablog.
Mormon Church spokeswoman Kim Farah said that "the offering of baptism to our deceased ancestors is a sacred practice to us and it is counter to Church policy for a Church member to submit names for baptism for persons to whom they are not related. The Church is looking into the circumstances of how this happened and does not yet have all the facts. However, this is a serious matter and we are treating it as such."For almost two centuries, Mormons have performed baptisms on behalf of deceased relatives, but church members are counseled to request temple baptism only on behalf of their relatives. To do so for those who are not relatives is contrary to Church policy, officials of the Mormon church said.
When Joseph Smith started Mormonism, he proclaimed that there are only two religions: his and the devil's, so he restored this ancient practice, initially described in 1 Corinthians.
Mormons believe that Joseph Smith, their faith’s founding prophet, restored the apostolic practice after centuries of neglect by mainstream Christians.
Mormons believe that vicarious baptisms give the deceased, who exist in the afterlife as conscious spirits, a final chance to join the Mormon fold, and thus gain access to the Celestial Kingdom. To Mormons, only members of the LDS priesthood possess the power to baptize.
Flake said Mormons are encouraged to baptize at least four generations of forebears to seal the family together in the afterlife. So the LDS church has built the world’s most extensive genealogical library in Salt Lake City with 700 employees and more than 2 billion names.Baptisms need bodies, so young Mormon men and women dressed in white robes stand in for the departed souls in temple ceremonies worldwide. Mormons youths consider it an honor to be immersed in baptismal founts while the names of the deceased are recited.
The Mormon Church already broke the 1995 agreement to abstain from baptizing Jews, so why are they apologizing now? Because Mitt Romney is running for president and his church is trying to remove as much negativity as possible that could hurt him in a general election. Jews have been very upset at this practice for decades because it invalidates their own religious belief system and talking to Jewish readers, baptizing Nazi hunters alongside Nazis is simply intolerable.
The church acknowledged that individual Mormons had been baptized on behalf of Wiesenthal's parents and that other members were apparently preparing to do so for Wiesel's three relatives.
"If Simon were alive today, it's hard to really describe what his reaction would be," said Rabbi Abraham Cooper, associate dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles.
Cooper described the Mormon practice of posthumous baptism as a "beautiful gesture," when done within Mormon families, but said it was inappropriate and offensive to baptize the Jewish dead, especially those who died in the Holocaust.
"Their physical lives were taken, their communities were destroyed and now somebody is coming along, however well-intentioned, and is suggesting that they're going to rebrand their souls," he said. "It just doesn't compute."
During the Values Voter Summit in October, sponsored in part by the influential Family Research Council and the American Family Association, it caused quite a stir when Pastor Robert Jeffress, after introducing Rick Perry as a genuine Christian, called Mormonism a cult.
A Texas pastor introduced Rick Perry at a major conference of Christian conservatives here on Friday as “a genuine follower of Jesus Christ” and then walked outside and attacked Mitt Romney’s religion, calling the Mormon Church a cult and stating that Mr. Romney “is not a Christian.” The comments by the pastor, Robert Jeffress of Dallas, injected a potentially explosive issue into the presidential campaign: the belief held by many evangelicals that Mormons are not Christians.
That happened at a high level conference of the religious right in America. The Mormon practice of posthumous baptisms doesn't help the LDS church within the religious right community and could be a factor in Romney's tough primary battle.