Mormon temple work for Holocaust victims


I know this is old news but a friend whose mother is Jewish asked me about it so I thought I would formalize my response. This is an ongoing problem and both sides have had legitimate difficulties in understanding each other’s position as well as keeping their part of the agreement.

A little background may be helpful. I’m sure you are aware of the LDS Church position on performing ordinances like baptism for those who have died. If not, perhaps a quick review of this doctrine on the Mormon Wiki page from the More Good foundation would be helpful.

In a nutshell, we believe that all people must receive certain ordinances in this life in order to comply with God’s commandments through his prophets. We also believe that these ordinances are only valid when performed by one who is authorized by God using priesthood from Christ.

Proxy ordinances in the temple

A unique doctrine and practice of the LDS Church is performing these ordinances by proxy in the Mormon temples for those who are now living in the spirit world. You’ll note that I do not say that they are dead because I want to emphasize our belief that life goes on after mortality.

As members of the LDS Church, we are encouraged by our leaders to search out and find the records of our ancestors. It is more than genealogy. We call it family history research. It is obviously big in our church and one of the things for which we are well known and respected.

Well, we are respected by most people for this work that we do, but apparently not all as you will find out as you read on. The rule is that we are only supposed to do the research on our own immediate ancestors and their descendants. That’s enough to keep most of us busy for a lifetime.

Records extraction program

We also do what is called records extraction or name extraction. For many years, the LDS Church has been microfilming court records and parish records around the world. In exchange for the permission to film them, we provide copies to the courts and churches free of charge.

This is all supported by our tithing donations, along with the building of all the temples and meetinghouses throughout the world where we offer free family history research library facilities to anyone. In fact, our libraries are used by the public more than they are by the LDS members.

Let’s get back to the records extraction program. As part of this program, the church has microfilmed thousands and thousands of the records of people in Germany, Poland and other European nations. Of course many of them are Jewish and many are holocaust victims.

Direct ancestors only

As a matter of practice, if an LDS member does not bring the names of his own ancestors to the temple to perform the proxy ordinances for them, they are supplied names from the records extraction program. As you can imagine, millions of individuals have been baptized this way.

And therein lies the problem. When descendants of Holocaust victims found out about this they were incensed, and demanded that their names be removed from the records of our church. They felt that it dishonored their ancestors and gave legitimacy to those who deny the Holocaust.

We agreed, and in 1995 a formal agreement was put into place that removed the names of these individuals and mandated a policy that no new ones are to be performed. The policy states that only those who are direct descendants of holocaust victims can submit them for the ordinances.

Agreement with American Gathering

As you can imagine with millions of people contributing to the temple files, this is very hard to enforce. In fact, it has proven to be nearly impossible. Thousands of new names keep popping up every year. There are also some who are doing this on purpose to embarrass the church.

Last November, Mr. Ernest Michel, honorary chairman of the American Gathering of Jewish Holocaust Survivors and their Descendants decided that the LDS Church was not keeping up with their part of the agreement and went public with a press conference to voice his discontent.

The story was picked up by several national outlets, including CNN, which caused it to be distributed to over a hundred local news organizations. As you can imagine, it caused a big stink, especially among those who were already criticizing us for our stance on Proposition 8.

Family history research

The LDS Church responded immediately with a press release and background material to explain both the doctrine and the practice and our agreement with American Gathering. However, it was too late. Mr. Michel had decided that he would no longer work with the church on this issue.

So there you have it. The church feels that we have been attempting to enforce the agreement in good faith and Mr. Michel has decided that we haven’t. It is a big mess and makes us look bad because we are unable to guarantee that this won’t happen again. The systems just aren’t there.

Interest in family history continues to grow throughout the world. It is an extremely popular pastime or hobby, especially among older people. As a church, we are dedicating enormous resources to sharing the information we have compiled, free of charge, and available online.

LDS church in the spotlight

As always, I stand by the theory that any publicity is good publicity. The LDS Church has been in the spotlight a lot over the past year with Mitt Romney running for President, the polygamist raid in Texas, the Proposition 8 uproar and this blowup over the names of the Holocaust victims.

If you dig into the story even a little bit, you will also discover that someone keeps submitting the names over and over again of those who committed the atrocities. Adolf Hitler and Eva Braun have had their temple work done many times as have Eichmann, Himmler and Goebbels.

I don’t know if this keeps happening because someone wants to embarrass us or if someone who is a legitimate descendant of these individuals has submitted their names. It doesn’t matter. But it does expose an issue that is not well understood even among many members of the church.

Summary and conclusion

Mormons believe that all individuals must receive the ordinances of salvation in order to obey God’s commandments. We believe we are fulfilling promises we made in the life before this to our ancestors when we seek out their information and submit their names for temple ordinances.

It seems that whenever there is a question of having the proxy ordinances performed or not, we will go ahead and perform them with the idea that it will all get sorted out in the spirit world. I can see why this is objectionable to those not of our faith but I will conclude with this thought:

If the Mormons are right and these ordinances are needed for salvation, then why not just go ahead and let them do them? Baptizing them by proxy in the temple doesn’t make them Mormon. They can accept or reject the work done. If we are wrong, then what does it matter?

For additional information:

1. Official LDS church response via Newsroom
2. Background explanation of Temple Baptism
3. Letter from the church to Ernest W. Michel
4. On honoring ancestors by an LDS Apostle
5. Voice of Deseret – includes numerous links
6. Official website of American Gathering
7. Wikipedia article on Baptism for the Dead
8. Deseret News – Mormon Times article
9. FAIR – Temple work for Holocaust victims
10. Official LDS.org – Baptism for the dead

7 Responses

  1. Good overview, Tim. There is an interesting discussion of this over on Mormon Matters a little while ago, and the comments included some good discussion. http://mormonmatters.org/2009/01/13/stop-baptizing-our-dead/

    Like

  2. First, as a non-LDS and determinedly secular person, I’ve never really understood why anyone from another religious tradition would particularly object to the LDS practice of proxy baptism. From a logical standpoint, it makes no sense whatsoever. If you are not LDS, then one must assume you don’t believe that the procedure has any real effect — it’s just an empty ritual. So why not live and let live and let the LDS baptize the dead?Secondly, why is it that it’s “the Holocaust” that seems always to be involved in this sort of (in my opinion) hyper-sensitivity? No matter the prevailing propaganda, victims/survivors of the Holocaust are NOT a privileged group of people. Americans, especially, need to get over this idea and get over it fast. It is an idea that is used politically in quite nefarious ways by apologists for the apartheid state of Israel. I invite your blog’s readers to take a look at a book called _The Holocaust Industry_ by Norman Finkelstein.

    Like

  3. Much of the anger stems from the basic doctrinal misunderstanding of vicarious baptisms. Vicarious baptisms do not effectively convert someone to the LDS religion. instead, conversion is a personal choice that each will be confronted with and concurrently given the opportunity to accept a valid baptism.Anger also stems from the idea that Holocaust victims “died for their religion.” As my fellow blogger (Hans) explained, we must not get religion confused with race in this context. Hitler construed Jews as a race that was defined by their religion. In other words, if a Jew was willing to denounce his religion, he/she would have suffered the same fate for it was the race that mattered, not the religion. Race was an immutable trait to the Nazis, the same way as applied to Gypsies, the handicapped and homosexuals. To the Nazi, a Jew could not get out of the camp by converting to Christianity the same way that a Gypsy could not renounce being a Gypsy.If interested, we discussed this at:http://theseerstone.blogspot.com/2008/11/vicarious-baptisms-for-holocaust.html

    Like

  4. The groups that complain about this don’t want to understand the Mormon perspective. We all know understand that the baptism is meaningless to one who does not accept it.I think the problem is that the church was too accommodating. There is no need to make a rule for every group that thinks you are being insensitive. The church could have simply taken a harder line and said: you don’t believe it, so you have nothing to complain about. If this was done, all the future ‘you broke your agreement’ problems would not exist. And most people would have agreed with the church because if something is meaningless, how can a group assign meaning to it?Then it would have all been seen as what it is, a group trying to get attention while trying to dish out negative attention.

    Like

  5. Great post! If you get the opportunity, would you please say a prayer for the requests listed on our main page: LighthousePrayerLine.org ?God bless you,Mark Seayps – I would really like to know about your successful ventures blogging on facebook … preaching the Gospel.

    Like

  6. Tim, I apprecite the overview, but I have to say: the leaders of the Church have asked the members strictly follow the policy, and I find it very troubling that there are those who have disregarded that counsel and continued to submit non-related names in violation of Church policy.The question of why so many Holocaust-related names have been submitted goes to a deeper issue: why is it that members submit names of those they are not related to? While some part of it may be sympathy for the people in question, I cannot help but feel that in some cases it may be an extremely misguided attempt to validate the Church by tying it to celebrities and well-known events; e.g., if Elvis’ work is done, then “Elvis is a Mormon”, which somehow makes the Church more valid.I believe very strongly that the temple work, centered as it is around families, gives individuals the ability to work for the salvation of their ancestors–or, if they so choose, to block the work for their ancestors. The Jewish dead belong to the Jewish people, and they have every right to block work for their ancestors (even if, in so doing, they unwittingly fulfill prophecy, Mark 10:31.)

    Like

  7. I once heard an anti-Mormon minister try to explain why baptisms for the dead, as mentioned in the New Testament, are not really that. First he read the following passage.

    “Else what shall they do which are baptized for the dead, if the dead rise not at all? why are they then baptized for the dead?” (1 Cor. 15:29)

    He said, “Well, the Mormons believe that this is a reference to baptisms for the dead. But, in actuality, it isn’t.” Then he went off into some twisty philosophical mumbo-jumbo nobody could follow, off on a diatribe that made the Mormons look pretty sensible, if you ask me. Why wouldn’t baptisms for the dead be just that? Let’s call a spade a spade.

    I don’t have a problem with work being done for the Holocaust victims. Anyone who left the earth without getting a chance to be properly baptized deserves the right to accept baptism. A true scripturian would see that nobody else is bothering to do this work, or even acknowledge that the Lord commanded it, so why not let the Mormons do it?

    Like

Comments are closed.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 2,462 other followers

%d bloggers like this: