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September 2nd, 2010
06:39 PM ET

Mormons and Jews reach agreement on posthumous proxy baptism

CNN's Kelly Marshall submitted this report from Washington:

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and a group of Jewish leaders have had come to an agreement on the Mormon practice of posthumous proxy baptisms.

The practice has been a source of contention between the Mormon church and Jewish groups, most notably The American Gathering of Jewish Holocaust Survivors and Their Descendants, which complained that the names of Holocaust victims have repeatedly shown up in church databases despite repeated requests for the names to be removed.

A joint statement issued by the groups on Wednesday said that, “Over the years, survivors of the Holocaust have pointed out to the Church that its practice of posthumous proxy baptism has unintentionally caused pain due to the inclusion of names of those who perished in the Holocaust."

"As a result of dialogue and extraordinary efforts of the Church, computer systems and policy initiatives have been put in place that resolve this issue," the statement continued, "which is greatly appreciated by the American Gathering of Jewish Holocaust Survivors and Their Descendants, the result of which will be felt throughout the world.”

Mormons routinely perform proxy baptisms for the dead, though, according to the church's beliefs, the dead have the choice to accept or reject the services performed for them.

“Holocaust victims perished only because of the crime of being Jewish," said Abraham Foxman, a Holocaust survivor and National Director of the Anti-Defamation League. "If you then convert them posthumously you’ll even take away why they died.”

It is one of the church’s core beliefs that families can be united forever after death, a major reason why genealogical research is so important many Mormons.

In the past, any church member could submit any name for proxy baptism. Although the church tried to avoid the names of Holocaust victims from being included, it couldn't guarantee it.

Now, improved computer software will make it less likely for any Holocaust victims’ names to be submitted again in the future.

Rabbi Gary Greenebaum, Director for Interreligious Affairs for the American Jewish Committee, said he is glad the problem–which has been an issue for nearly 15 years–can be put to rest.

“I think that there was never a question of positive intent on the part of the church," he said. "Now finally the technology has caught up with the desire to fully rectify the situation.”

Bob Abrams, a former New York Attorney General who helped to mediate the recent discussions between Jewish leaders and church, agreed.

"This was a much heralded resolution and everyone in the delegation is extremely happy," he said. "This is a very generous and significant effort by the LDS Church to display enormous sensitivity to the Jewish community for victims of the holocaust and I think members of the Jewish community recognize what the church has done.”

Foxman said the Church deserves credit for being sensitive to Jewish pain and history. “They were sensitive enough to understand the Jewish faith and they made an exception to their basic principle,” he said.


soundoff (142 Responses)
  1. Rod

    Acts 2:8 "Peter replied, 'Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins.'"

    2 Corinthians 5:10 "For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive what is due him for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad."

    There it is...baptism follows a conscience decision of a living person to turn from their sin. And we are judged on what was done while living...not after we have died.

    Mormon teaching is heresy plain and simple

    September 4, 2010 at 9:29 am |
    • Tracy Hall Jr

      Rod (Sep. 4, 9:29 AM) cites scripture to imply that if one isn't baptized while living, he is damned. Thereby he damns the vast majority of people who ever lived on the earth.

      "There it is...baptism follows a conscience decision of a living person to turn from their sin."

      But the spirit does lives on and still has complete moral agency, and the decision is indeed conscious and fully-informed, thanks to missionary work in the spirit world. (Mormon missionaries are everywhere!)

      The same Peter whom you quote also declared: "For for this cause was the gospel preached also to them that are dead, that they might be judged according to men in the flesh, but live according to God in the spirit." (1 Peter 4:6)

      Clearly a person can't repent of sins until he his convinced of his sins. But Peter shows that repentance is indeed possible for those who sinned in ignorance. Through the eternal principle of baptism for the dead, God puts all his children on an equal footing.

      Peter also wrote,
      "For Christ also hath once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh, but quickened by the Spirit: By which also he went and preached unto the spirits in prison . . . "

      Why preach to the spirits in prison if there is no way for them to go free? But Christ has obtained victory over death and hell, and the chains of hell shall be broken!

      Baptism for the dead was, in fact, practiced in the primitive Church. (1 Corinthians 15:29)
      http://scriptures.lds.org/en/1_cor/15/29#29

      Baptism for the dead is marvelous evidence of the infinite mercy of God.

      Tracy Hall Jr
      hthalljr'gmail'com

      September 7, 2010 at 5:55 pm |
    • Desertian

      It's hardly simple 'heresy', friend. It's an elegant doctrine that allows for billions of folks, who never had the chance in life, to accept the ordinance of baptism. They can't truly skip the earth-related part, which is why we have proxy baptisms. Something similar was also practiced in the early days of Christianity, you know, before Rome took it over and made it a state religion and turned it from a message of peace and good tidings to one of violence and oppression.

      September 15, 2010 at 1:41 am |
  2. Joannr51

    Mormonism- nothing more than a business cult using religion as a front and founded upon the hallucinations of the "great con", Joseph Smith and his tinker bell Moroni.

    September 4, 2010 at 9:06 am |
    • Tracy Hall Jr

      Reality wrote:
      "Mormonism- nothing more than a business cult . . . "

      Strange business plan: not one individual is getting rich off it. If Mormonism is a business, then the President of the Church, who does receive a living stipend, must be one of the most overworked, lowest-paid "CEOs" in the world.

      " . . . Joseph Smith and his tinker bell Moroni."

      Did you know that that same prophet Moroni, some 1600 years ago, the last survivor of his people, while struggling to finish up the sacred record, saw you in vision and prayed that the Lord would give you some charity? Someday you'll meet him and be thankfully astonished at his kind and forgiving nature. Read Moroni's struggle with the Lord in your behalf:
      http://scriptures.lds.org/en/ether/12/22-41#22

      Tracy Hall Jr
      hthalljr'gmail'com

      September 7, 2010 at 5:36 pm |
  3. Steve B

    You can call a dog a cat, but that doesn't change the truth. Sadly enough there are also fake rabbis who don't want to address the problems of real Jews being converted, so they divert attention to something ridiculous like this. If the Mormons want to have an inaccurate database or want to call the sky green, that should be up to them as long as they don't start harassing the family members of these dead people or try to convert live Jews.

    September 4, 2010 at 8:54 am |
    • ringo

      This is called "reframing" and "minimizing" – you've created a new explanation for why this is being pursued that turns the onus back on the accuser, and you've described the act in a way that renders it inoffensive. Both are classic propaganda techniques.

      September 4, 2010 at 3:34 pm |
  4. bob

    Ok, this is just dumb. Why would you pretend to baptize a dead person, let alone a dead person from 60 years ago. What is wrong with these people? I am Jewish and the thought that the Jewish council thinks this is doing anything to the souls that are already with God makes my head want to explode. The fact that they argue the Mormon practices means that they believe they are effective. Seriously, this is an issue that shouldn't even exist

    September 4, 2010 at 8:36 am |
    • ringo

      So what denomination of jewish are you , bob?

      September 4, 2010 at 1:48 pm |
  5. Truth Seeker

    LOL!! Reminds me of two old stoners argueing about who's hallucination is the real one.

    September 4, 2010 at 4:06 am |
  6. Siobhan

    “The weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is the attribute of the strong.” Mahatma Gandhi

    September 4, 2010 at 3:30 am |
  7. Siobhan

    I think we've already established that it is arrogant. Just as baptizing infants who don't even get the opportunity to make a choice is arrogant. At least the dead are given a choice, or did you not read all the posts? They are free to continue with their original choice if that is what they want, nothing is usurped from them. Infants on the other hand have their freedom of choice completely usurped from them. Assuming the Native Americans were heathen and needed to be converted to Christianity was arrogant. Assuming third world countries need democracy to be happy is arrogant. Thinking you're better than some because you have more money than them is arrogant. We're human, we excel at arrogance.

    If a missionary from another church knocks on your door and asks you if you would be interested in hearing about their religion, is your right to choose your religion over theirs taken from you? Of course not. Deciding whether you want to be taught a different belief and accepting or rejecting an ordinance done for you by the living after you are dead is no different.

    It's interesting to read these comments because you can tell by their words whether someone is trying to resolve the situation or keep the fight going. Making inflammatory remarks and resorting to name calling is divisive, not healing.

    September 4, 2010 at 3:10 am |
    • ringo

      What part of "rest in peace" are you not getting here?

      September 4, 2010 at 9:24 am |
  8. Cricket

    It seems rather arrogant to baptize dead souls who may have made a different choice in their beliefs wihile alive. Not just arrogant, but condescending as well.

    September 4, 2010 at 1:35 am |
  9. Carlos Marin

    Jewishness is an ethnicity, Judaism is a religion. Jews were murdered by the Nazis because of their ethnicity, not because of their religion. Posthumous baptism obviously does not change ethnicity, so Jews need not worry that Mormon posthumous baptism destroys the 'reason there ancestors were murdered'. I don't suppose Catholics are concerned that some crackpots are turning their ancestors into Mormons. I don't understand why Jews would.

    September 4, 2010 at 12:51 am |
    • bettie

      As a cradle Catholic who lived in Salt Lake City, I for one AM offended by the fact that a number of my devoutly Catholic deceased relatives are listed in their database. But history has shown that once an individual name (Anne Frank, Attila the Hun, and many others you wouldn't expect, for example) is exposed as being listed in the church's baptism database and removed, some church member who thinks (s)he knows better re-baptizes them and the cycle begins again. Try reigning in the zealots in any religion–it gets you nowhere.

      September 4, 2010 at 2:02 pm |
  10. Siobhan

    And oh yeah, you got me on the question of the after life! We'll all find out eventually. Yes, busy week indeed with the peace talks going on. I want so badly for this problem to get resolved.

    September 4, 2010 at 12:23 am |
    • ringo

      You're welcome. But the only way the problem is going to be "resolved" is if the practice stops.

      September 4, 2010 at 9:40 am |
    • ringo

      Ah sorry, you meant the bigger problem.

      Me too,

      September 4, 2010 at 3:07 pm |
  11. Siobhan

    This is my 3rd time trying to post this, unless there is a page 2 that I'm missing. Anyway, just wanted to thank ringo for the website, thank everyone for an interesting discussion and wish you all a wonderful weekend.

    September 4, 2010 at 12:17 am |
  12. Siobhan

    Now you've piqued my interest, ringo, where would you suggest I look on the internet for accurate info about the beliefs in Judaism regarding spirits, angels and afterlife? I love learning about other religions, it's so fascinating to me but there is a lot of misinformation out there. But I can assure you that there is no ritual, prayer, chant or any other thing to try to contact the dead. No ouija boards, sacrifices. As I said, I don't know how they find out, it really is an interesting question. I'll have to ask my friend. I do understand the offensive nature of this practice for Jews, but if the leaders can forgive and move on others of Jewish faith should follow their example. The practice of baptizing Holocaust victims was not meant to be disrespectful, it was overzealous and insensitive but was not done out of malice.

    You should know that not all Mormons can go to the temple and do work for the dead, only the most devout members can go. Members must be interviewed every 2 yrs to make sure they're living their lives in a Christlike manner. So you've got the most devout members doing these baptisms, and what I think happens is that they become so focused on what they are doing that they fail to stop and consider the feelings of those who are involuntarily involved. Mormons tend to hang around each other even outside of church and often are not exposed to other cultures and religions as much as others. A good example is ringo's information that it is forbidden to contact the dead in Judaism; I doubt very many Mormons know that. I'm not defending what they did, just trying to understand the views of both sides and the intentions of the Mormons. They truly believe that they are providing a way for all of God's children to return to them, and they can be very passionate about this belief, and those in the Jewish community are equally passionate about the victims of the Holocaust, understandably. I'm glad the leaders of both communities were able to resolve the situation. We can continue to stay angry or we can see this as an opportunity for both sides to teach each other and also anyone else interested, like me. This discussion alone has already brought to light a lot of information.

    September 3, 2010 at 11:41 pm |
    • Siobhan

      *I meant 'providing a way for all of God's children to return to Him.'

      September 3, 2010 at 11:43 pm |
    • ringo

      "Accurate info" is problematic, because Jews work by rabbinic opinions, not all of which agree. How can we know about the afterlife when nobody has come back to describe it?

      But I've always been fond of myjewishlearning-dot-com. This is a busy week for such things.

      September 3, 2010 at 11:51 pm |
  13. Andy

    Siobhan, please read below:

    1. When the LDS Church makes a public statement, as it did two or three years ago, that sacraments performed under the power of the Roman Catholic Church are invalid, that is a way of "putting down" another religion. For instance, I was told by my former, Mormon wife and family that my parents' marriage had not been valid. Neither had been my baptism. You must know some good Mormons that I do not, and, just because the ones you know are good, in your opinion, they in no way represent the official position of their church on this matter. In fairness, however, I should also add that the Roman Catholic Church does not recognize other churches' sacraments, either. By the way, I am not Catholic.

    2. When someone invokes the name of the deceased and proceeds to posthumously baptizing that person, one cannot assume whether that deceased person wanted it or not. Therefore, to assume so is a forceful act by the individual engaging in that activity (i.e., an act of violence.)

    3. Your analogy that infants are baptized as Christians without their consent leads toward an irrelevant conclusion.

    4. Again, your witnessing the behavior or some Mormons does not imply that they are representative of the whole. Your observations are limited and your own, and you are employing an informal fallacy of composition.

    5. Your interpretation of my statement pertinent to the arrogance of the LDS Church's position that "sacraments performed by other churches are invalid" totally missed the mark. My premise was quite objective. Furthermore, your reference to the colonization of the Western World, as an example for found arrogance, is irrelevant. It bears nothing in common with the argument at hand. However, following it, you do justify the arrogance of the LDS Church, in view of it also being found in other churches, religions and organizations. So, your reasoning is: if the other organizations are arrogant, it is justifyable for the LDS Church to be so, also.

    6. Now, resorting to appealing to emotion is a low, low blow. You assumed anger where there is only disapproval. "Where does it come from?" There is no answer for that question from me. It begs it (i.e., 'petitio principii'.) Further on you assume that dispute resolution should only happen in a certain way, when it may happen in a myriad of ways: forgiveness, compromise, negligence, rioting, civil war and so on.

    7. Your last sentence should have been written, instead, as "I'm not interested in what you have to say, because your opinion does not agree with mine." Why appeal to emotion and use 'ad hominem', again? You could have been direct.

    I, for one, thank you for the mental exercise. Cheers!

    September 3, 2010 at 11:19 pm |
    • ELB

      Andy:
      That your ex wife and former in laws (who are Mormon) might have said your parent's marriage was invaild, I won't argue with you on that. Many of us say things that are not the actual position of the LDS Church. I will tell you that they were wrong if it was what they said.

      The LDS Church recognizes the weddings of all other churches and civil authorities. We do not make anyone get remarried before they are baptized. We do make people who are "shacking up" to us my grandmothers term, get married before baptizim. Otherwise they would be breaking the law of chastity as soon as they are baptized. What we are taught however, is that those marriages are only binding until "death do us part". And most Christian faiths teach that there is no marriage in heaven, which is where that phrase commonly used in wedding cerimonies comes from.

      September 9, 2010 at 8:33 pm |
  14. Joannr51

    Ham sandwhich says it nicely: OK..You say there's nothing mentioned about contacting the dead. But. if a baptized Jew doesn't want the baptism and excercises his free will than he has been contacted or else how would he know
    about the baptism and his option to decline. Its a nasty disrespectful thing to do to usurp from souls the very principle for which they died. If I were a dead Jew on that list I would be rolling in my grave....And Mormons should not only apologize and cease and desist, they should donate handsomely to the holocaust fund/museum/whatever...

    September 3, 2010 at 11:04 pm |
    • Desertian

      What if the dead Jew was wrong? How can you assume that an individual who died a cruel death, one who never had the chance to choose for himself, will necessarily agree with the official Jewish opinions of today? Life (and in this case, death) is all about what we choose to do with our time and why we choose to do so. I'm a little annoyed at the endless complaining about the proxy baptisms of such-and-such a group. If the Mormons are wrong, then who cares? If they're right, then it's an injustice to deny anyone the chance to choose.

      September 15, 2010 at 1:31 am |
  15. Siobhan

    That's a really good question, and I don't know the answer to that. It is possible to contact someone indirectly, friends pass on messages, we receive letters informing us that it is time to renew our car registration, etc. Maybe there is a giant arena where the spirits wait for their proxy to be baptized and then Drew Carrey tells them to Come On Down! But my friends have told me that while the temples where these ordinances are performed have a very sacred, reverent feeling, it's really kind of boring to do the ordinance. You read the name, you're dunked, you read another name, you're dunked, and when you are finished the next person waiting in line behind you does the same. No fireworks or spectral appearances. This not to say that there aren't other reasons for the Jewish community to be offended. Despite the way Andy presented his argument, he has a point; it does seem arrogant to perform sacred ordinances for someone from another religion, it's like saying to them that they got it wrong but we'll fix it for you. I wouldn't like that either.

    September 3, 2010 at 8:51 pm |
    • Siobhan

      I'm guessing it requires the help of heavenly messengers, spirits, angels or whatever you want to call them. Idk if Judaism believes in angels, but I'm guessing that they do because there are stories in the Pentateuch that have angels.

      September 3, 2010 at 8:55 pm |
    • ringo

      Judaism doesn't believe in angels the way xtian theology does – they don't have an independent consciousness from the diety, any more than your finger has an independent consciousness from you.
      This is of course a massive oversimplification.

      September 3, 2010 at 10:19 pm |
  16. Siobhan

    That's very interesting, Ringo, I did not know that. You have quite a bit of knowledge about Judaism. I agree with you that it is improper for the LDS church to baptize Holocaust victims and I understand how that would be offensive to their descendants. However, I have some friends who are Mormon and there is no attempt to contact the dead by the living. It's my understanding, and I could be wrong, but the dead are taught by others who are dead who have been baptized. They can then accept or reject the gospel.

    The Mormons I know are good, family oriented people, and one thing I've noticed is that they do not engage in making fun of or putting down other religions. I don't know what act of violence you're speaking of Andy, the ordinance is just a matter of reading the name out loud and then being baptized for that person. No one is forcing the dead to accept it and I repeat there is no contact with the dead. The proxy has no idea whether the person they have performed this ordinance for has accepted, ignored or rejected it. And again I have to say that no choice is given to infants who are baptized in other Christian religions. As for fear of mortality, I have witnessed just the opposite. They look forward to what they consider just another stage of their eternal life. It may seem like fantasy to some, but all religions have an element of mysticism to them, it's part of their attraction. It's certainly not unique to the LDS church. As for arrogance, one has only to look at the colonizing of the western world to find arrogance, so again, it's not a unique characteristic of the LDS church. It can be found in many churches, religions and organizations. It is a very common human trait, unfortunately. I'm sorry that you have such anger toward Mormons, Andy, where does it come from? By attacking the church like this you only make people become defensive and angry in response and nothing gets resolved that way. I'm interested in what you have to say but I would give much more credence to your opinion if it was stated with respect instead of anger and threats.

    September 3, 2010 at 8:06 pm |
    • ringo

      Yes, I've heard the "no attempt to contact" response before. How exactly do you offer someone a choice without contacting them? It's like saying that ringing the doorbell while I'm in the bathtub doesn't disturb me, if I don't get up to answer (hint – it does).

      September 3, 2010 at 8:24 pm |
  17. P Fletcher

    Why do we need a middle man(religion) to speak with g-d. Why do we need religion of rules and regulations that make sex and food so sacred so that they can forbid what a bunch of old bitter men said we should do. I don't need a religion to be moral!!!

    September 3, 2010 at 7:47 pm |
  18. Andy

    We need to understand that Mormons live in their own, magical world filled with delusional misconceptions. One must laugh at their arrogance, for telling others that the sacraments non-Mormons receive are invalid. Furthermore, their posthumously baptizing the dead only substantiates their deep-rooted fear of mortality and superiority complex. It is as harmless to the rest of us, as it does them harm for committing such an act of violence against someone's will. May they someday achieve a state of grace in which they will not only be at peace with others but also with themselves. Until then, a warning: stop pulling your stunts or there will be hell to pay.

    September 3, 2010 at 6:44 pm |
    • Siobhan

      I'll try this one more time; for anyone who wants more information on Mormons, go to mormons.org
      We'll see if CNN has the integrity to post this reply with it's web address.

      September 6, 2010 at 1:02 am |
  19. Siobhan

    In the spirit of trying to present all sides, let's put the doctrine of baptism for the dead up against the more fundamentalist doctrine of some Christian churches that only those who are baptized in the name of Jesus Christ will be saved. Have these Christians ever wondered what happens to the billions of people who have lived and died without ever even having heard of Jesus Christ? Are they just out of luck? And what about the doctrine of baptizing infants? I don't recall giving my consent to be baptized when I was 2 mths old. This flies in the face of the Christian doctrine of freedom of choice. If one thinks this through logically, the only FAIR way for every soul who has lived on this earth to have the opportunity to 'go to Heaven' is if they all get the opportunity to hear the Gospel of Jesus Christ and they all have the opportunity to profess their belief in the Savior in some way.

    And you can't whitewash this by saying those who never heard of Jesus Christ will just be judged on their merits alone, because this does away with the need for one to be baptized to enter heaven. So which is it? Do we need to be baptized to show our faith in Jesus Christ and that we accept Him as our Savior to enter Heaven, thus removing any possibility for billions of people to be granted this opportunity, or do we just let people in based on how they lived their lives here on earth and removing the need for baptism?

    While the Mormon practice of baptism for the dead seems crazy, at least it's not exclusionary. Btw, I'm not Mormon nor do I belong to any religious organization. My philosophy is an oldie but a goodie, going back to Socrates, who stated that the only thing of which he was certain was that he was certain of nothing. People who are absolutely sure they are right and have all the answers scare me. I live in a country founded in part on religious tolerance and yet most of what I've read here has been disrespectful and judgmental. I think we have enough knowledge and experience to be better than this.

    September 3, 2010 at 6:22 pm |
    • ringo

      The piece of information that you are missing is that it is forbidden under Jewish law to attempt to contact the dead. So, inclusive or not, what the Mormons are essentially doing is having a ham sandwich in memory of starving holocaust victims.

      September 3, 2010 at 6:52 pm |
    • Bill

      Ham sandwich? Contacting the dead? There is no mention of contacting the dead in Mormon Doctrine. The work of baptism is done on their behalf and not based on having a conversation with them.

      September 3, 2010 at 9:30 pm |
  20. Kenny

    I am LDS member and like give my thoughts to this subject. Again it's my thoughts about what I understand about church doctrine so its not the official Church stance. Only a authorized person that represents our church can make official church statements. First proxy baptims or what we call baptisms for dead. Is doctrine that gives all mankind to obey Jesus statement that all must be baptized to enter the kingdom of God. Of course this only the first step towards that goal. And most members understand that only beginning of discipliship to follow the Savior. Those who are baptized by proxy can reject or accept so that God no respector of people. In other words, everyone then is given the chance to accept or reject our Saviour. One core beliefs in our church is that all mankind has free agency to choose what they want to believe. Now that doesn't let the escape the consequeces of what is true. In other words either what Jesus said was true or not true will either make him the True Saviour or like Jews believe they are still waiting for him to come. On side note remember that as one is baptized into Church Jesus Christ of Latterday Saints they are then adopted in the House of Israel if they not already a member by birth right. Jews are only one tribe of House of Israel but like just because you got the birth right doesn't mean you get into the Kindom of God it only means you got the privelage to carry the message of Gospel of Jesus Christ as a disciple when they continue to obey the promises that are made at baptism. And all other covenants they make in the temple to move forward towards our goal of returning to live with our Heavenly Father (God) and his Son (Jesus Christ).

    September 3, 2010 at 6:03 pm |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.