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The Mormons and the Dead

“As for that,” said Waldershare, “sensible men are all of the same religion.”
“And pray, what is that?” inquired the prince.
“Sensible men never tell.”

— Benjamin Disraeli, Endymion

The good new is they’ve been told to stop. The bad news is that may prove to be impossible. Mitt Romney has no opinion. He’ll let the church speak for him. The issue goes back to 1995 and it was supposed to come to a halt then. The thing that was to have been stopped was posthumous baptism.

The Mormons believe that their beliefs are the only ones that guarantee their followers a decent seat in heaven. Being generous in nature, they are eager to share their good fortune with those who did not join them while on earth. To remedy the non-Mormons’ oversights, it was disclosed in 1995 that posthumous baptism had become something of a large-scale operation here on earth by Mormons eager to share their good fortune with non-Mormons. According to Mormon theology, former humans have “free agency” and the posthumous baptisms provide only an opportunity and not an obligation to join the church in the afterlife. The way it probably works is that once in heaven and baptized posthumously, the beneficiaries of the process are summoned by some divine being and told that as a result of earthly activities by Mormons, they have the opportunity to spend eternity in a different venue from that in which they were prior to the announcement. If the Mormon digs are more attractive they can accept the baptism and move in with the Mormons and, if not, stay put.

One of the things that was revealed in 1995 was that Adolph Hitler had been posthumously baptized. Mr. Hitler probably welcomed any opportunity to move from where he had thought himself destined to spend eternity and was happy to join the Mormons. (The only reason he might have hesitated was that the Mormons had posthumously baptized more than 380,000 holocaust victims, including, among others, Anne Frank, and Hitler might have had some hesitation about moving in with those who were there because of him.)

Following the 1995 disclosures the Mormons and the American Gathering of Jewish Holocaust Survivors based in New York, arrived at an agreement pursuant to which the Mormons agreed to end the practice of “vicarious baptism” and to remove the names of those it had already baptized from church roles. The agreement was not honored.

On December 13, 2003, we learned that not only had Mormons continued the posthumous baptisms but had failed to unbaptize prior beneficiaries as promised. In defending the failure to unbaptize people, spokesman explained: “We never had in mind that we would on a continual basis, go in and ferret out the Jewish names. That would represent an intolerable burden.”

In 2010 there was some good news. It was announced that the Mormons had a new computer system in place that would make it hard for members to get people posthumously baptized unless they were direct ancestors of those submitting names to be baptized. The computers notwithstanding, in February 2012 it was disclosed that Anne Frank had been baptized (for the 9th time) in the Santo Domingo Dominican Republic (LDS) Temple on February 18, 2012 and Danny Pearl, the Wall Street Journal reporter who was kidnapped and died in Pakistan in 2002 had been baptized in Twin Falls, Idaho, in June 2011. There is no reason to assume that there were not other, less well-known individuals, who were baptized, promises to the contrary made in 2010 notwithstanding. Now the practice will almost certainly come to an end.

On March 4, 2012 a letter signed by church president, Tomas Monson and two others in the Mormon First Presidency, was read to every Mormon congregation in the world that says posthumous baptisms of “unauthorized groups, such as celebrities and Jewish Holocaust victims” must stop. It says that names submitted for the process “should be related to the submitter.” (For some reason “should” rather than “must” is used.) Those who “embarrass the faith by submitting the names of celebrities and Holocaust victims” will “lose access to the Mormon genealogical records” and “other corrective action may also be taken.”

Asked to comment about former drug addict, Rush Limbaugh’s comments that Sandra Fluke, a woman he called a “slut” and a “prostitute”, should be required to post online sex videos if taxpayers were paying for contraception, Mr. Romney courageously said, so as not to offend Mr. Limbaugh: “Well, that isn’t language I would have used.” Elie Wiesel, a holocaust survivor and Nobel laureate whose father was posthumously turned into a Mormon, asked Mr. Romney to denounce posthumous baptisms, a practice in which Mr. Romney said in a 2008 interview he had not “recently” participated. His campaign referred the question to church officials. As time goes on we will learn if the Mormons in fact abandon posthumous baptism. We will also learn whether Mr. Romney encounters something that he feels REALLY strongly about.

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