March 9th, 2012
07:50 AM ET
Mormons crack down on proxy baptisms; whistleblower’s access blocked
By Jessica Ravitz, CNN
(CNN) - In response to recent media reports that well-known Jewish Holocaust victims and slain Jewish journalist Daniel Pearl were baptized by proxy, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is renewing and revamping efforts to crack down on the practice and, some believe, stop the attention.
The church said this week it had implemented a “new technological barrier” to prevent abuse of its massive genealogical database, parts of which have been used to carry out – as well as expose - proxy baptisms.
"The church is committed to preventing the misguided practice of submitting the names of Holocaust victims and prominent individuals for proxy baptism,” spokesman Michael Purdy said in a written statement.
“Anyone trying to access names that have been restricted will have their account suspended and be required to contact [the church] to establish their family relationship in order to have their access reinstated. Abuse of the system will result in the permanent loss of database access."
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Whistle-blowing ex-Mormon researcher Helen Radkey, who uncovered the proxy baptism records that made headlines recently, says an account she was surreptitiously using to gain access to the database has been blocked.
“I have been effectively stopped,” Radkey told The Salt Lake Tribune. She said the church was “of course” targeting her.
The church, though, says Radkey’s blocked account was part of its effort to stop inappropriate proxy baptisms and not about Radkey.
“It is ironic for someone to claim they are being targeted by the measures we have taken to prevent unauthorized submissions for baptism,” Purdy said. “We are doing exactly what we have been asked to do and what we said we would do - denying access to names that should not be submitted because they are against our policy.”
Purdy said no one by the name of Helen Radkey has an account with the church’s database, known as New FamilySearch.
“If she, or anyone else, is misusing a church member’s identity to search for Holocaust names, then the system is set up to block those kinds of activities. There have been a handful of accounts blocked so far.
“We have said before that no system is foolproof but that we were committed to improving our ability to prevent unauthorized names from being submitted for baptism,” he continued. “To complain about us doing just that is baseless."
Explainer: How and why do Mormons baptize the dead?
Word of the new measures and blocked accounts comes on the heels of a statement from top church officials that was read to congregations across the globe last weekend clarifying what is and isn't acceptable when it comes to proxy baptisms.
The statement said Mormons’ “pre-eminent obligation is to seek out and identify our own ancestors.”
“Without exception, church members must not submit for proxy temple ordinances [rituals] any names from unauthorized groups, such as celebrities and Jewish Holocaust victims,” the statement read. It warned that members who violate the rules could lose access to the system and added, “other corrective action may also be taken.”
Efforts to deal with proxy baptisms are nothing new. Instructions on how to use and contribute to the database grew out of a 1995 agreement with Jewish groups that were horrified to find that people who died because of their faith were being baptized by proxy in Mormon ceremonies.
After the recent flood of stories, Holocaust survivor and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Elie Wiesel appeared on CNN and called on Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney to reprimand his church.
Romney, meantime, has been asked if he has ever partaken in proxy baptisms. He says that he has, but so have most Mormons who are eligible to participate in temple ordinances. Also referred to as temple work, ordinances are the sacred ceremonies performed within LDS temples for the living and the dead.
Proxy baptisms are part of that work, and Romney's participation was likely decades ago. The baptisms are generally completed by younger Latter-day Saints, between the ages of 12 and 20, with males and females being vicariously submerged for deceased persons of the same gender, explains senior religion writer Peggy Fletcher Stack of The Salt Lake Tribune.
“A white-clothed young man or woman, standing in a font of water about waist-high, represents the dead person,” she writes. “He or she is then immersed after the adult male baptizer (also wearing white) says these words: “Having been commissioned of Jesus Christ, I baptize you for and in behalf of [name of the deceased] in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.”
To be sure, for the Jewish people, who have experienced their fair share of forced conversions over the centuries (think the Spanish Inquisition), the suggestion that victims like Holocaust victim Anne Frank or Pearl might be baptized after death can be horribly offensive.
Others might view the practice of proxy baptism as simply strange or utterly meaningless. If you don't subscribe to the Mormon belief system, some might say, why does the practice matter to you?
Still others view the practice as nothing short of laughable and have made a mockery of what Latter-day Saints view as sacrosanct. The website “All Dead Mormons Are Now Gay” lets users enter the name of a dead Mormon and click the "Convert!" button to make them gay. Comedian Stephen Colbert responded on his show by slicing off the tips of hot dogs, thereby proxy-circumcising dead Mormons to make them Jewish.
A special invitation, attendance optional
“With more than 14 million members around the globe, the church is no more able to guarantee compliance of every member with its policies than other worldwide faiths are able to guarantee theirs,” Michael Otterson, who heads up LDS Church public affairs, wrote in a piece for the Washington Post.
The practice of performing proxy baptisms isn't one that's going away.
Believing as Jesus taught that baptism is essential to “enter the kingdom of God” (John 3:5), Mormons believe they are extending a loving invitation to those who died without having the opportunity for this rite. They point to 1 Cornthians 15:29, in which Paul spoke of baptizing the dead, a message LDS Church founder Joseph Smith took to heart.
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In doing proxy baptisms, Mormons do not claim to make anyone Mormon. They believe spirits in the afterlife are being exposed to the gospel, and a proxy baptism provides an opportunity to the dead to either accept or turn down the invitation to believe and find salvation.
Central to LDS Church teachings is the belief that families across generations can be united for eternity. Performing proxy baptisms for the dead is what makes eternal togetherness in heaven possible. Family history research for Mormons, as a result, is of sacred importance.
Members have been in the business of family research since the 1840s, writes Stack of The Salt Lake Tribune. So it’s no coincidence, then, that the LDS Church boasts the most comprehensive genealogical records available.
The church has compiled more than 2.64 billion searchable names in its online historic records collection, and more than 250 million names are added to the database each year, LDS Church officials say. Every year, FamilySearch produces more than 160 million digital images from source documents.
The database is accessible to the public online or at more than 4,850 LDS Church family history centers and libraries in 126 countries.
LDS Church members are given special accounts that allow them, in a separate process, to submit names for temple rites by proxy, as well as see other names that have been submitted and baptized. Such details are off-limits in the public version of the database.
“Our doctrine is for members of the church to submit names of their own relatives for temple work,” church spokesman Purdy wrote in an e-mail to CNN. “Over the years the church has provided eligible names to take to the temple [for ordinances], but it is the primary responsibility of members to submit family names.”
In baptismal fonts in the 136 LDS Church temples that span the globe, temple ordinances for the dead take place every day but Sunday. So an overzealous or troublemaking Mormon in Sydney, Australia, for instance, might ignore instructions and enter a slew of names of people he’s not related to into the system. And then, sometime later at the temple in, say, Accra, Ghana, the people on that list might get baptized by proxy.
Because officials back at LDS Church headquarters in Salt Lake City, Utah, can’t monitor what each member does, whether with good intentions or not, names slip through – names like Daniel Pearl, Mickey Mouse and Stanley Ann Dunham, Barack Obama’s mother.
Understanding 'the messenger’
Often at the center of breaking proxy baptism stories is Helen Radkey. Touted as a whistleblower, the 69-year-old researcher has shamed the LDS Church time and again for objectionable or embarrassing baptisms.
An ex-Mormon who was excommunicated from the church, she is often seen by some observers as an obsessive agitator. Others praise her for her dogged commitment.
Radkey says she was active in the church for less than five years in the 1970s. In a 2009 profile in The Salt Lake Tribune, it was reported that this “Catholic-turned-Mormon-turned-New-Ager” left her first husband and children to join the church because she wanted in so badly.
A grown son from a later marriage was quoted as saying, “She was on a crusade … to single-handedly take down the Mormon religion. She was so consumed by that, we had a hard time relating to it.”
But the Australian-born Radkey, who lives in Salt Lake City, points out that it’s often others who come to her looking for names, because she has found ways to get access to records and knows how to navigate the system. She suggests journalists, hungry for anything Mormon-related during this election season, have brought her down.
She says someone from a British newspaper asked her to look up Princess Diana, who was baptized in 1999. A wire service reporter called, she adds, wanting to check to see if there’d been a proxy baptism for Gandhi; there had in 1996. And it was a reporter from The Boston Globe, at the prodding of his editor who had once worked with Pearl, who reached out seeking info on his status, the results of which created the latest hubbub.
Though Radkey says the church blocked the account she most recently had been using, she hints that she has other accounts available, though she won't divulge details or confirm anything. She also says, “I’m not looking up any more names.” This, however, is a claim she's made before, as she did in the 2009 Salt Lake Tribune profile.
Over the years, she says she’s heard people accuse her of trying to get rich off her efforts. “I don’t make a living,” she says. “I have to do other work, and I get Social Security.”
At one point, about 10 years ago, the head of a Holocaust survivors group paid for her time to accumulate a list of 1,000 Holocaust victims who had been baptized, after the LDS Church claimed the Jewish community was “overreacting to the problem,” says Gary Mokotoff, a Jewish genealogist in New Jersey who has been following the issue for 22 years, long before it made headlines.
Besides being compensated by the same group for her time and expenses in appearing at a news conference in New York a few years ago, “that is the only time [she] received compensation for her effort,” Mokotoff wrote in an e-mail. “Helen puts in hundreds of hours per year on the matter without compensation (and she complains to me about it).”
Others, Radkey says, have speculated that she’s entered the names of those she later finds in LDS records, a charge she denies, calling it “out of date and out of line.”
“The inference that I enter names into the Mormon system, which I never have, usually comes from a Utah mindset that would ‘kill the messenger’ rather than deal with the results of my work,” she wrote in an e-mail to CNN. “Not only have I never done this, I should not have to explain away this false charge because there is not one shred of evidence that I have ever done such a thing.”
The upside for others, including Jews
For Mokotoff, a professional genealogist, there’s an irony to this issue that isn’t lost on him.
The past president of the International Association of Jewish Genealogical Societies and co-owner of Avotaynu, which publishes resources for Jewish genealogists, Mokotoff is beyond grateful to the LDS Church. He leads trips to Salt Lake City, ground zero for family research. He has benefited directly from the care Mormons take in gathering, preserving and sharing records.
“They have 2.5 million microfilm rolls that represent billions of names,” he says. “I traced back my ancestry to 1727 in Poland because they had made copies of birth, marriage and death records in Warka, Poland, the ancestral town of the Mokotoff family.”
But even so, he remains firm in his belief that the LDS Church must stop baptizing Holocaust victims, and preferably deceased Jews in general, by proxy.
Granted, he respects the caveat that the church has always maintained, that if a Mormon is descended from Jews or Holocaust victims, those names are fair game.
Mokotoff says he recently got an e-mail from someone who was concerned that a niece was marrying a Mormon, would likely convert and would then potentially baptize others in the family.
“She has that right,” Mokotoff answered. “It’s her religion.”
But just as she has that right, the Jewish community has a right to remain concerned about what's happening in a Mormon-only system it can't access.
Blocking a whistleblower like Radkey may slow the ability to keep tabs on proxy baptisms, but it's not insurmountable, Mokotoff says.
“The Mormon church thinks they have found a way to end the controversy between the church and the Jewish community: stop Helen Radkey,” Mokotoff wrote late Thursday in an e-mail. “Ten years ago, their religious database, then called the International Genealogical Index, was accessible to the public. Now it is a secret database that can be used only by password. Helen Radkey has found ways of getting around the church's barriers in the past. She is a resourceful woman. I am sure she will find ways in the future.”
‘It’ll never be perfect’
There are outsiders who wish the LDS Church would just stop the proxy baptisms altogether. But that’s both unrealistic and disrespectful, says Rabbi Gary Greenebaum of Los Angeles.
Greenebaum is intimately involved in the issue as a liaison between the LDS Church and the Jewish community.
“I can work with [the church], and I can suggest strongly what kind of actions they can take,” he says. “But when it comes to their own theology, I don’t have much of a place to tell them what they should believe.”
What the former American Jewish Committee director of interreligious and intergroup affairs can do is take his cues from Holocaust survivors.
“The issue is their relatives lived as Jews and were murdered because they were Jews,” he says. “The whole Jewish sense of never forgetting means remembering who died and why they died.”
To that end, he has worked with LDS Church insiders to alleviate concerns.
He also has seen up close the frustration within the church. He feels for the officials. He applauds them for the statement they issued to members on Sunday and the reminders of guidelines that appear on FamilySearch. He sees how they have made tweaks to the system, established safeguards and how entries are flagged for review, for example, if deaths were during World War II and in places bearing names of Nazi death camps like Auschwitz or Treblinka.
He has observed the new hires, the additional hours and money spent. With several million submissions of names in FamilySearch each month, he says he persuaded the church to do computer runs more frequently to help prevent inappropriate proxy baptism requests from seeping through. When violations appear, someone phones the submitter for a discussion.
When the church first worked out an agreement on the proxy baptism of Holocaust victims back in 1995, there were 8.5 million LDS Church members, Greenebaum says. Now that number is 14 million, and between Internet access and computer advances, the system is enormous and not easy to control.
As a result and despite the hard work, mistakes are bound to happen.
“It’s moving closer to being figured out,” Greenebaum says. “But it’ll never be perfect because it’s just too vast. And it’s important to appreciate the problem they’re dealing with.”
About this blog
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.
Only the Jews would have so much hatred for Mormons, who love Jews. Who cares if some religion believes they need to "honor" the dead with some ceremony and "include" them in their religion! If you do not believe that religion then WHAT HAVE YOU LOST? Big babies, these Jews. Ever heard of "live and let live"? Jews need to fire their PR people and get new ones.
Heya i am for the first time here. I came across this board and I in finding It truly helpful & it helped me out a lot. I'm hoping to present one thing again and help others like you aided me.
I've recently started a blog, the information you provide on this website has helped me tremendously. Thanks for all of your time & work. "Never trust anybody who says 'trust me.' Except just this once, of course. – from Steel Beach" by John Varley.
By the way, why is Cat denying the garments and the spaceship and the "gods on Earth" beliefs? My distant cousin jumped on me for that too. They can't hide these things. The very fact that they feel they have to baptize everyone is because they are judging all others to be "less" than they, so they need to be saved or they will not achieve a place on the ship. I know that the Mormon church is ultra secretive, but that information is in published sources that come from their church. Omar was sarcastic, but said nothing that wasn't based on church beliefs.
MORMONS COMMIT CHILD ABUSE!!! TO USE CHILDREN AS YOUNG AS 12 AND FORCE THEM TO ENGAGE IN THESE SICK CULT CEREMONIES SHOULD HAVE CHILD PROTECTIVE SERVICES AFTER THESE PEOPLE!! THE KIDS ARE TOO YOUNG TO RESIST THIS FORCED BRAINWASHING!!!!
I have heard that the Mormons baptize every person who has ever lived . I for one dont want my name associated with thier sick child molesting religion. Incredibly we might get a President who stands behind the filthy LDS CULT. Should that happen that will be the saddest day in the history of the USA. Jim Copeland Boca Raton FL. firstname.lastname@example.org
My god! You racist pig. In the bible in verse 2 Corinthians 5:11 it reads:
( Therefore, knowing the fear of the Lord, we persuade others. But what we are is known to God, and I hope it is known also to your conscience. )
That is the holy bible by the way. Don't disrespect another religion like that. That is so not right and you should not do that.
Very cool design and concept! http://www.jp2love.com/contact.html
To Gary Kimball... Your last name tells it all. Those of us non-Mormons in SLC know it well and what it represents.
These guys are just trying to make Romney look more palatable. Come on polygamy, magic undies, postmortem baptism., blacks weren't allowed in until the 1970s.... Can you say "CULT"?
Jez I am so glad to see that you have such a clear unbiased understanding of my Faith. I hope your friends and family don't so shallowly judge you by stereotypes and ignorant information. I am a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints and I plan to vote like i judge people and religions around me. I am going to look at each candidate in an unbiased way. I can easily tell you things that I dislike in Romney, his plans for healthcare for example. There is a book called "living a year biblically" by Aj Jacobs. This secular and non-religious man decided to live the bible to the letter for a year. He was did all he could to live life as a Jew and see it from an unbiased view. He didn't in the end join any faith, but he gained "holy envy" for the religion. I hope that you get a chance to see my faith for the humanitarian good we do, or the positive ways we contribute to society. I dont mean to offend you in defending my faith, It just is very important to me. I am a very imperfect person and without my faith I know personally I would be less happy and would be walking much darker paths. So like every person who has ever lived, I am following the path that makes me happiest. And I hope you will respect everyone's beliefs whether christian, jew,or atheist for what they offer good to society and humankind.
I love reading religious people arguing with other religious people. It's like watching 2 cripples trying to fight each other.
"In the far corner weighing in at 196 lbs, the Terror of the Temple, the El Diablo of the LDS, the Disciple of discipline!! The Mormon!!" ...
"And in the other corner weighing in at 189 lbs, the Quran Crusher, the Arm of Abraham, the Mighty Muslim!!!"
"Okay guys, you both have your reason, logic and sanity tied behind your back, no need for those getting in the way. Now I want a dirty fight, anything goes, no attack is too petty, no smear is to vile and kicking below the belt is a must, because as you know, the end justifies the means, now LETS GET READY TO RUMBLEEEEEE!!"...
"...Others might view the practice of proxy baptism as simply strange or utterly meaningless...If you don’t subscribe to the Mormon belief system, some might say, why does the practice matter to you? Still others view the practice as nothing short of laughable..."
Well that pretty well sums it up folks 🙂 LMAO
At least we're in the same game. Nothing could be more trivial than atheists here like a well-geared CRICKET entering into a boxing ring to Manny Pacquao.
I'm glad you're not a Mormon, too. It's obvious that your hate, misdirection and dishonesty are all you will ever amount to. Now go take your meds.
Wow Gary, "by their fruits they shall be known." You're a good representative of your mormon church.
It's one thing to say you disagree with someone, like I (and MANY others) do with this video, but it's another to attack and bully someone just because they say something you don't like. Everything in this video is exactly as you believe. Why would it make you angry?
Take my meds? It sure sounds like I'm not the one that needs meds my friend. How unfortunate you are to be a mormon that is so filled with doubt that you have to strike out at people that might strengthen that doubt even further.
Gladnotmorm – You not being a Mormon already makes Mormonism more attractiive to good and honorable people.
Sorry to spoil your fun, but I served my mission at the Macon Georgia Mission 90-92, came home got married in the temple and then did a lot of soul searching over what I'd done and what I'd seen on my mission. How we tore families apart, how we treated people that wouldn't convert and how numbers where higher than god when it came to baptisms. I was the 7th generation mormon with my ancestor actually mentioned in your doctrine and covenants. So Gary, sadly, I must rain on your parade....I'm glad I'm not a mormon ANYMORE. So that means that the videos, the posts...they all come from my own experience as a mormon and it's all real. BTW, I didn't join another religion and I don't go to any church. I learned from the mormons that if you allow yourself to get THAT brainwashed, there's nothing more that can really fool you again. Sucks to be you now huh?
Glad to hear you have found a way to work out your life. And frankly, I'm happy that no Bishop or Stake President has to have the kind of deadwood you represent on their rolls. If you are unhappy, then don't join the Church and don't stay a member of the Church. I'm glad you're gone. The Church has enough trouble with lazy children of record that have been so spoiled that they have never been able to over come any real challenges in life. And it's pretty obvious that if you are not lying about what you say about yourself, then you are certainly just another weak link in a family chain that is better off without you polluting the Church community. Although I guess you still do that with your hate spewing all over the place. But that's your right. But you embarrass yourself. Good and honorable people in the Church are better off without your poison.
Just one last time (chatting with you is like a train-wreck....I just have to keep reading your angry posts...lol) I'll point out that all you're doing with your nasty posts is chasing away people from investigating your church. You're so angry and mean and miserable that people are going to realize that it's possible that other mormons are the same way and they will ignore your expensive commercials and your missionaries when they knock on the door. It's because of people like you that I left the church. Anyone in their right mind with any self-respect would see that. Wow Gary, you're doing so much damage to your church that I actually feel sorry for them and that's sad. Now comment and spew away, but I won't be back to catch up with you again. Good luck with your misery. It seems like your religion isn't doing any good at making you a happy or compassionate person.
gladnotmorm - I can understand exactly what you are saying, but you are looking into a mirror. I'm sorry that you have been so unhappy and miserable in your life, but your decisions are yours and yours alone. Your hate filled filth if your creation not mine. It's obvious that anyone that doesn't agree with your perverse and hate filled perspective is automatically plastered with your turn about nonsense. But that's typical of people like you.
the decision to baptize posthumously a jewish holocaust victim (or any other non-mormon) should be based on either of the following: 1) the individual has so stipulated in his will; 2) a close relative of the deceased has agreed to that mormon posthumous baptism.
should neither of those 2 conditions be met, the mormon church has an obligation, in the interest of freedom of religion of the deceased individual, to prevent that illegal baptism.
Why does the CNN branch of the U.S. propaganda ministry constantly dance on eggshells concerning matters of Jewish faith, but continually challenges the faiths of Catholics, Mormons, and Protestants?
Just tell us the REAL news about what is going on the U.S.A., CNN! Quit trying to distract the American people with this staged load of crapola!
The Mormon Church is the only Christian Church that believes that Hell has an Exit.
Mormons are not Christians
So just lyin, you claim that Mormons' imaginary stories are more imaginary than your imaginary stories?
One determines the Truth by studying the Truth.
just saying (nothing) - Well, if Mormon's aren't Christians, then neither are you. Your truth is of the same value as any other truth. So if their truth is not truth neither is yours. You have no Christian values in you.
There is a true Christianity, it just happens Mormonism isn't it. There is only one Gods Truth, it is complete in Jesus Christ as contained in the 66 books of the Holy Bible. Not of private interpretation (as with Mormons) and not with extra texts. You're very much mistaken Mr. Kimball.
just sayin – You're quite right, there is a true Christianity, but you have little to do with it.
Based on your statements you have nothing to do with Christianity Mr Kimball. Mormons are not Christians
Prayer changes things .
Prayers don't do jack.
Prayer changes things
Prayer is of a value beyond estimation and has changed the course of human history since creation
The prior post is a delusion. ^^^^^
richard prior passed away some time ago so is unable to post on these blogs.
~~~The statistical studies from the nineteenth century and the three CCU studies on prayer are quite consistent with the fact that humanity is wasting a huge amount of time on a procedure that simply doesn’t work. Nonetheless, faith in prayer is so pervasive and deeply rooted, you can be sure believers will continue to devise future studies in a desperate effort to confirm their beliefs!~~...
Prayer changes things.
"Prayer changes things.
You've been proven a LIAR over and over again.
Hey why are they "mormons" ashamed of the church's very real functions. Will mormon's now lie and deny their "magic panties". Will they deny their spaceship waiting behind the moon. Will they deny that they will ALL be gods themselves. Will they deny that to reach the highest level of "heaven" they MUST have multiple wives. Will they deny that maroni has the golden tablets "hidden" in SLC and of course no one is allowed to see them.
Actually I used to believe all of these things. Then I stopped taking LSD on weekends.
Go MAGIC PANTS, go....
And people say muslims are crazy.
I do not know where you got any of that info from, but you are quite mistaken about the LDS church's beliefs. I (and I am confident many others as well) find your post quite offensive. Additionally, how can you dare to comment on people bashing your own religion when you bash on other people's faith?
@Cat – "how can you dare to comment on people bashing your own religion when you bash on other people's faith"
I'll bet lot's of Mormons have commented on how "all Muslims are just after their 72 virgins" much like others have said "Mormons like to wear magic undies".
Both are slaps in the face to reason and sanity, but there you are, having the "My crazy beliefs aren't as crazy as yours are" debate. If this never had any effect on society at large I would sit back and just laugh, but your mindless struggle to prove your imagined dieties are superior to each other has harmed far too many people throughout history and can no longer be tolerated in the public sphere.
I said nothing that bashed on any religion. Additionally, I said nothing comparing any faiths on their beliefs. There are people of many faiths within my family and even more faiths among my friends. Finally, I am not responsible for anything that any member of the LDS church said nor am I responsible for anything anyone of any faith says about another faith or any other matter. I'm sure some LDS people have made derogatory comments about religions before as I am sure that people of probably every faith have made comments (possibly untrue) about other faiths.
Thank you. I fought with some distant cousin about her need to baptize everyone in our family into a religion that only SHE believed. Then I realized that God was watching...and laughing. I felt better.