Baptism By Firewall?


The Times of Israel is reporting that Mormon leaders are blocking access to the names of Holocaust victims in their genealogical database.  The church has promised not to posthumously baptize these people, and the firewall is an attempt to prevent those church members who might not have gotten the word – or not have gotten it strongly enough – from getting their hands on the names.

The move comes amid criticism that the Salt Lake City-based Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints hasn’t done enough to live up to commitments to stop its members worldwide from performing the baptism ritual on Holocaust victims and other notable Jews.

The new system will immediately block church members’ access should they try to seek out names of Holocaust victims or other notable figures that have been flagged as not suitable for proxy baptisms. The church said the move is aimed at ending the practice.

But critics say it merely serves to block anyone from monitoring whether the posthumous baptisms continue.

The last sentence there indicates a distrust which I think is unfounded, if past experience is any guide.  The Mormon church has a history of altering practice in the face of stiff criticism or legal action, and then sticking to the change.  Banning polygamy and the treatment of blacks are two examples.  Another example, more immediately relevant to Jews, is the Mormon research center is Jerusalem.  It gained permission to open only on condition that it wouldn’t take advantage of the target-rich environment for missionary activities (walk-in business is another matter, of course; Israel remains a free society with freedom of conscience), and there is every evidence that they have strictly kept that promise.

I admit that I’ve never been particularly bothered by the practice in the first place.  In Judaism, there are ways of affecting the soul of loved ones after death; it is believed that a child who recites Kaddish for a parent for a year after the parent’s death, for instance, acts to ameliorate judgment on the parent’s soul.  There are fears of missionaries affecting the behavior of Jews in this world, by encouraging them to convert.  This is to say nothing of those who would hasten the passage of living Jews into posthumousness.

But as a Jew, I don’t believe that posthumous baptisms affect the souls of my dead relatives, the practices of living Jews, or the course of their lives.  (I am particularly baffled by those who would use it as an excuse to vote against Mitt Romney, especially when his opponent, the sitting president, has at least a two-degree of separation distance from characters with far more unsavory relationships to Jews.  Not to mention his close relationship to many Jewish converts to Marxism.)

Being lied to would bother me a lot more, but in this instance, there’s no real reason to think that’s going on, beyond those who have a generalized mistrust of the Mormon Church and Mormons to begin with.

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