Friday, June 14, 2013

Learning Empathy for Those Offended by Proxy Baptisms

I came across an interesting course of thought on an LDS Internet forum recently. Members of the forum were comparing the LDS priesthood ban from Those of African descent to the Church's policy that Jews and especially holocaust victims should not have their names submitted for proxy baptism in Mormon temples.

The argument was that in each case, the Church was denying eternal blessings from a group of people based on race. So, if you are outraged by the priesthood ban, then you should be outraged by not being allowed to do proxy baptisms for deceased Jews.

The argument fails on further inspection--the policy regarding proxy baptism is that only direct descendants may submit names of deceased Jews and holocaust victims. The truth of the matter is that the rule has always been that you should only submit names of your own ancestors, regardless of ethnicity. The rule just never got enforced until the rule breakers brought on bad publicity. Such is the normal behavior of large organizations.

So should I be outraged that the Church won't let me baptize your dead ancestors? I really don't see why I should be. I think it is extremely reasonable and respectful to let you decide what happens with your ancestors' legacy.

But still, there seems to be a vein in Mormon culture that thinks your offense at our baptizing your ancestors is out of line.  Among the reasons given:
  • Not allowing us to baptize any dead person infringes on our right to practice our religion.
  • We aren't forcing the dead to be Mormon, we're giving them the option1.
  • If you don't recognize the authority of the Mormon church, then why does it matter?
  • If Mormonism does turn out to be true, then we're doing them a favor.
The problem with these reasons is that they are all culturally-centric and culturally-selfish.  It can be really difficult to explain what it is exactly that's so troubling to people about their ancestors being baptized by proxy in our temples.

The truth is, I really don't know how to explain it.  But I can give you a demonstration of how people feel when we baptize their ancestors without their consent.  I present to you All Dead Mormons Are Now Gay.

But be warned, you might be offended by that website.  To put it in perspective, even I was offended by it2.

For those of you who don't want to click the link, I can summarize it for you. The website proclaims that "many Mormons throughout history have died without having known the joys of homosexuality. With your help, these poor souls can be saved."  All you need to do is enter the name of a dead Mormon, press the convert button, and congratulations! You've just made a Mormon gay for eternity.  "No take-backs!"  The site even has a helpful feature where, if you don't don't know any dead Mormons, you can press a button and the site will link to Family Search and randomly select a dead Mormon for you.

How do you feel now?

That's why we don't baptize people's ancestors without their consent--because we shouldn't be doing anything that makes people feel like that.

1 By LDS doctrine, this is actually true. We don't believe that a proxy baptism makes a person Mormon. We believe that a baptism by the proper authority needs to be performed for every person who ever lived, but each individual is free to accept of decline that baptism. That fact, however, doesn't make it any less emotionally upsetting to people who don't subscribe to Mormonism.
2 Don't get me wrong. I laughed and immediately appreciated the satire. But yes, it was offensive.


  1. I think as members of the Church we seem to have this crazy idea that we are doing other people a favor when we are baptizing their ancestors by proxy and "if they don't like it, too bad". It's selfish and quite self-righteous if you ask me. The example you provided is excellent to illustrate the point, thank you.

    Now, about comparing the Priesthood ban and Proxy baptisms, I really just see it as a failed attempt to rationalize (once again) something we can hardly digest and that has been in our back for the past 161 years so what we do? We attempt to throw a mantle of divine inspiration on the issue. See? Easy, no questions asked. God did it, ask Him.