Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Elie Wiesel Demand That Mormons Stop Proxy Baptisms for the Dead

Prominent Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel has called on Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney to “speak to his own church” and ask them to stop performing posthumous proxy baptisms on Jews.

The demand, reported on the Huffington Post website, comes after members of the Mormon church, also known as the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (LDS), baptized the dead parents of famed Nazi hunter Simon Wiesenthal, an act that provoked a storm of criticism and led to an apology from the church.

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"I think it's scandalous. Not only objectionable, it's scandalous," Wiesel, 83, told the HuffPost.

Wiesel told the site that the situation has gotten so out of hand that the most prominent Mormon in the country should speak out about it.

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In the practice, known as "baptism for the dead," living people stand in for the deceased to offer that person a chance to join the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in the afterlife, according to an account in the Tribune. Mormons believe it is their moral obligation to do the temple rituals, while those on the other side can choose whether to accept the action or not.

According to the HuffPost, negotiations between Mormon and Jewish leaders led to an agreement in 1995 for the church to stop the posthumous baptism of all Jews, except in the case of direct ancestors of Mormons, but some Mormons failed to adhere to the agreement. Wiesel was among a group of Jewish leaders who campaigned against the practice and prompted a 2010 pact by which the Mormon Church promised to at least prevent proxy baptism requests for Holocaust victims. Wiesel said that proxy baptisms have been performed on behalf of 650,000 Holocaust dead.
I have a couple thoughts on the matter.

First, it has been clear to conservatives that if Romney was to get the nomination, there would be attacks on the LDS faith. In politics, timing is everything, and the timing of this, as well as directing it at Romney (who has no position or authority to make policy decisions for the Church), suggests that this is politically motivated. The fact that this issue had been the subject of two different agreements in 1995 and 2010, and that the Church had already taken action on the latest complaint simply underscores the needlessness of Mr. Wiesel's public statement, except as an indirect attempt to weaken Romney politically.

Second, it is not "scandalous." "Scandalous" means "causing general public outrage by a perceived offense against morality or law."  As noted above, the "baptisms" are proxies done off a list of names typically submitted by descendents of the decedent(s). The Church doesn't count such proxy baptisms in membership numbers or list such people as members. Thus, the Church is not "advertising" or claiming that any particular person is a member of the Church simply because a proxy baptism was performed. As noted above in the excerpt of the article, the Church teaches that the persons in the afterlife are free to accept or reject such proxy baptisms. Even after death, the person retains his or her free will. Thus, it is difficult for me to see how it would be any more "scandalous" to a non-believer than someone offering a votive candle for a Holocaust victim, or a brief prayer for the concentration camp victims while visiting the Holocaust museum. 

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