Jews, Mormons, and Posthumous Conversion: Am I Missing Something?

For a number of years, a controversy has been raging in genealogical circles over the practice of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints of posthumous baptism. I am concerned for purposes of this discussion, in particular, with the practice of posthumous baptism of Jewish Holocaust victims, which has the Jewish genealogical community mightily pissed off.

Now I have only the most superficial knowledge of the tenets of LDS, in spite of a required Illinois high school state history curriculum unit on the Mormon history of Illinois, and I am well aware of the enormous contributions the Church has made to genealogical study; its vast research facilities are made available free of charge to users of all faiths (and I’ve used them myself). However, though I am not a religious person (my interest in Jewish genealogy is because I am interested in the history of my family, and well, my family is Jewish), I am all about free will, as long as a person’s exercise of free will does not infringe on the free will of others.

So as my family hails from parts of Europe quite thoroughly ravaged by WWII (Latvia, Ukraine, Poland, Belarus, and maybe a couple of others), and my maternal grandmother’s family in particular hails from a small town no more than a couple hours’ train ride from Auschwitz, chances are pretty darn good that I lost numerous extended family members in the Holocaust.

Apparently the theory behind LDS posthumous baptism is that all people, regardless of whether they were born before the foundation of LDS, should have the opportunity to enter Heaven.

Now I may not be religious, but I respect the fact that my ancestors likely were. Surrounded as they were by various flavors of Christians, I imagine there was no shortage of chances to be baptized, and perhaps some of my ancestors even had to resist forcible attempts at baptism.

If they didn’t accept Jesus as their saviour, it probably wasn’t for lack of opportunity. And in fact, many of them likely died for their refusal to declare belief in Jesus. So it offends my sense of respect for free will to baptize them now that they have no choice in the matter. After all, Jews don’t proselytize, so why not give Jews the same respect?

Am I missing something here?

Well, frankly, what the hell does it matter? If you’re jewish, do you really think that grandpa is going to get yanked out of Sheol, or whatever, and get tossed into the Mormon version of the afterlife? Let the Mormons act out their fairytales, it is not like they are digging up bodies and baptizing them, right? If they want to make a long list of dead people and say “Bam, they’re Mormons now”, how does that hurt anybody?

Eeeeeeeeeeh… Jewish identity is a complicated subject as it is, but this stuff doesn’t even begin to enter into it let alone complicate it.

Religious rituals have their uses, but actually changing reality generally isn’t one of them. If your ancestors who died in Ha Shoah were Jews, than they were Jews while they were alive. They lived and died as Jews, not Christians. Mothing now will change that.

If someone sprinkled pixy dust on a piece of paper with their names on it, and said they were now all unicorns, would it matter?

Well, I’d not say you’re missing something, but I would argue that[ol]
[li]The Mormons mean well.[/li][li]It may certainly been seen as obnoxious in some contexts and to some people, and may smack of earlier Christian attempts at forced conversion of Jews…[/li][li]But it doesn’t really matter. Let whoever wants to, claim that Jews weren’t Jews. IMO it just makes them look rather silly.[/li][/ol]

Not that you don’t have a right to be annoyed. Just suggesting, as I see it, it’s rather insignificant and not worth wasting much energy on.

Well, if you’re using that logic, how would you like it if someone started attributing beliefs to your dead relatives that you knew they didn’t hold, and would probably have considered highly offensive? And in particular, if your relatives had died for holding opposite beliefs?

That depends. I would get really upset if they started a big campaign and publicized that my relative was a Mormon, when indeed they were not. But from my understanding of the matter, they just have some big computer, or maybe even a bunch of books, where they just list a bunch of names of dead Mormons. If they want to add my grandpa’s name, let them. They can add Tom Sawyer and even claim George Washington was LDS if they want. As long as they don’t expect me to do anything, they can put me in their book too. It is their book, and their religion, whatever floats their boat is alright with me if it doesn’t hurt anybody. The line comes, I think, when you lie to people. If they wanted to claim Einstein was a Mormon and had a bunch of posters and ads to that effect, I would be angry.

Also, I think it would be wrong to lie to other Mormons too. That is, if little Suzy Mormon asks the pastor if her Gram-Gram was a Mormon, and the pastor says she was, knowing full well that she died a Jew and the pastor just changed her “affiliation” in the big book last week, well thats pathetic. I wouldn’t put it past them religious types, but I just don’t think this is the situation here. It seems that the LDS church is entirely open about the fact that these people died believing another religion, and that they basically are trying to make their families feel better by saying they’ll meet Gramps in heaven even though he died an athiest.

So, to answer your post, I don’t think that the Mormons are attributing beliefs to people. They are basically saying “Even though they died as miserable unbelievers, we’ll go ahead and make them right with our god so the family members in our church will feel better.” Please correct me if I have the situation all wrong, I don’t know too much about it.

What about if you violate formal promises you made more than 10 years ago?

“In an agreement signed in 1995, the Church made a commitment to limit posthumous baptism of Jews to those who were ancestors of Mormons and to use only those records that did not identify the individual as Jewish. At the meeting on April 12 between Church officials and representatives of the Jewish community, the Jewish group showed thousands of violations of this provision. Some Jews were baptized by submissions of individual Mormons less than 30 days before the meeting. They included Yitzhak Rabin, Theodor Herzl and Chaim Weitzmann.”

Is the baptism supposed to automatically turn dead people into Mormons? I thought it was more in the way of proselytizing to the deceased: giving them the option of going to Mormon heaven instead of staying wherever it is that non-Mormons go when they die, but only if they want to take it.

All you’re missing is a certain patronizing strain of thought. In the minds of these Mormons, the Jews either made their decision wrong or just weren’t informed enough. So they’re doing them a favor by correcting the mistake for them. Very considerate of them.

Isn’t it rather offensive to the living? (He asked rhetorically.)

The Church, as an entity, isn’t violating the agreement, AFAICT. Certain individuals in the Church are, and they’re supposed to be held accountable for that when found out.

Another thing: not a single person who actually understands the LDS concept of posthumous baptism would ever say, “They’re Mormons now” anyway. The closest thing they would say would be, “If they accept this ordinance on their behalf, then they are now members of Christ’s Church” or words to that effefct.

Worse than that, there is a very great possibility that our ancestors were abused or even killed by devout Christians of various denominations (clearly not Mormons, though.)

If there is an after life, and if this is an issue, then Jesus and/or God can talk about it with the souls directly. Everyone else can jolly well bugger off.

A splendid example of Christian arrogance, in my opinion.

The Church apparently needs to work on its organizational skills and develop some better oversight, then. From my previous link above:

“Church-originated baptisms continued as late as six years (2001) after the agreement was signed. The sources were batches of Jewish records distributed prior to the 1995 agreement–ones the Church never recalled. The agreement did not call for the winding down of baptisms using Jewish records; it calls for the end of baptisms as of the signing date.”

Hey my belief is that when you are dead you are dead and that God is not something that cares much about the likes of you and me, but … I do not advocate defacing cemeteries and this is equally wrong for all the same reasons.

Sure, I do not think that the dead care, but I respect their memories all the same.

My $00.02: I don’t think that the dead care, because I don’t happen to believe in an afterlife; it is however a practice annoying to the living descendants of the dead. It is not analogous to cemetary-desecration, for it appears that the Mormons do not intend to insult the memories of the dead; but, having been informed that the descendants find the practice offensive, they should have the good grace to quit it.

That being said, the annoyance is not all that major (as certainly a Jew would not believe such a ritual has any actual meaning). It is more a case of feeling that the Mormon Church is not acting in a very respectful or tactful manner.

The things that we do after somebody dies are for the benefit of those still living, either physically or emotionally. For them to do this shows a lack of respect for the feelings and wishes of the survivors, as well as a lack of respect for their own ability to sway people to their way of thinking while they’re still alive. My mother is agnostic, but descended from Mormons. She keeps the family bible on the same shelf as the Wizard of Oz and Tolkien, i.e., with the rest of the fantasy fiction. If some Mormons showed up on my doorstep after she passed away and said they wanted to baptize her posthumously, I would laugh in their faces and send them away.

Then I’d get pissed.

I agree with FinnAgain here, possibly for the first time ever. To me it’s a little absurd than anybody even cares. Making an issue of it seems to give credence to the practice – as if the people in question really were being converted, as opposed to the true state of things, which is that nothing whatever is happening.

The important factor is not whether caring is a sensible thing to do, but the fact that people care.

If someone goes around saying my great-grandmother was a sex offender, and it is not true, this doesn’t affect anything either - she is long dead. But I may care. Therefore, it affects me. It would somewhat lack in courtesy to me to say such stuff about my great-grandmother, if you know I don’t like it.

Now, I’m not saying that calling my great-grandmother a “Mormon” is the same as calling her a sex offender; obviously, the one is not intended as in any way insulting (I’m sure Mormons consider it a complement), and the other certainly isn’t flattering. What I’m saying is that stuff, even quite irrellevant and untrue stuff, and even I would say totally “meaningless” rituals, has an effect if people who are alive today care about it.

I may not care about what is said about my great-grandmother. You may not care. No-one on this board may care. But does it lie in our mouths to judge what is important to someone else in such a matter?

As I understand the practice, the “Mormons” go through a meticulus process to identify any all of their own ancestors first, and others second who have not been baptized according to Mormon practice. Then volunteers are “baptized for the dead” in special ceremonies in the Mormon Temple. Non Mormons are not permitted entrance to The Temple anytime.

This is the reason the Mormons are so deeply involved in geneology.

IMHO it is of no value one way or the other. If you didn’t know it was done it would not be of concern. If you do know why be overly concerned?

If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

Malthus, I don’t say that people don’t care, only that they shouldn’t care. Your analogy is totally off the mark. Posthumous baptism hardly means that people are going around saying such-and-such about so-and-so. We’re talking about an annotation in a book that basically no one is reading but the Mormons. You’d never even hear about it if your great-grandmother were baptized this way. It’s too trivial to worry about, particularly if you’re not Mormon and think this practice of theirs is a little silly anyway.

I’m with EVA. I frankly am having difficulty understanding why people don’t see the problem with this.

Respect for the dead includes respect for the beliefs and wishes of the dead. If Grandpa said he didn’t want to be an organ donor because he wants to be buried with all parts attached, then you don’t make him an organ donor because he wouldn’t want it – even if you think it would be for the greater good of society.

It is especially galling when the dead were people who not only believed something, but who literally died for that belief. Jews are not Christians. They do not hold Christian beliefs and they are not subject to baptism – a sacrament they do not believe in and would almost uniformly reject out of hand. Those who died in the Holocaust died because they were Jews – they made, willingly or not, the ultimate sacrifice in the name of their faith. To purport to administer them a Christian sacrament after death, in full knowledge that they would not have accepted it when alive, is highly, highly offensive. It presumes that the Jewish person will be faithless to his or her religion after death, despite being completely faithful to it while alive. It presumes that the LDS faith is better than the Jewish faith, and totally disregards the fact that, while the Mormons certainly think that it is, the Jews certainly think that it is not.

And the caveat that it only gives the dead the option to embrace Mormonism after death is IMO pure smoke and mirrors, because the Mormons believe that of course the person will accept because of course they understand, after death, that Mormonism is the one true path to God, and of course they will want to live in the Celestial Kingom (the highest Mormon heaven) in the presence of God Himself – which they cannot do if they don’t accept. And it disregards the fact that, accepted or not, the sacrament is already performed, in their name, and they have no choice about that. There is no way to check with the dead so the default position seems to be, “well, we’ll do it, and if he/she doesn’t like it, they can disavow it” – disregarding the extremely good likelihood that not only would many disavow it after the fact, they wouldn’t allow it to be done in the first place.

It’s arrogant, it’s offensive and painful to the living, and it’s presumptuous to the dead who are helpless to prevent something that would have saddened, angered, or offended them while alive.

It also, BTW, is also offensive to many non-LDS Christians, who believe that the sacrament of baptism cannot be performed on the dead and should not, under any circumstances, be performed on the unwilling.