Patt Morrison For March 1, 2012

Mormon baptisms of the dead are common, but why?

Erin and Lance Willet/Flickr

The Family History Library in Salt Lake City, UT, a genealogical research center, where the records of Mormons and non-Mormons are stored for eventual baptism, 2008.

The posthumous baptism ritual performed by a group of Mormons for slain "Wall Street Journal" reporter Daniel Pearl last year has brought renewed attention to the religious practice. Pearl, who was Jewish, was infamously kidnapped and killed in Pakistan in 2002 while investigating Al-Qaeda. So-called "proxy" or "posthumous" baptisms are performed by Mormons in an effort to provide non-Mormons with an opportunity for eternal salvation in accordance with the church’s beliefs about the afterlife. Pearl’s parents and widow have said they are disturbed by news of the ritual. Mormon Church officials have reportedly denounced the baptism performed by independent members of their church.

In 1995, the church agreed to stop baptizing Holocaust victims after it was highly criticized for “saving” 300,000 victims of the tragedy, including relatives of Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel. More recently, a Morman church in the Dominican Republic reportedly baptized the most famous Holocaust victim of all, Anne Frank. In response to the controversy, the church’s spokesman, Michael Purdy said, “It is distressing when an individual willfully violates the church’s policy and something that should be understood to be an offering based on love and respect becomes a source of contention.”

WEIGH IN:

Should the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints be free to baptize the dead in the name of eternal salvation? How do the beliefs of one religion affect other religions?

Guests:

Jonathan Kirsch, book editor for The Jewish Journal; author of seven books on the history of religion, including “The Grand Inquisitor’s Manual”, a history of the Inquisition

Judith Freeman, author of several novels that deal with Mormonism, including “Red Water” and “The Chinchilla Farm” as well as a biography of Raymond Chandler, “The Long Embrace”


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