Members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints are known as Mormons, just as people who practice “Plural Marriage” are known as polygamists. Of course, The Mormons claim to have given up that practice years ago. But then, we keep hearing of rogues and outcasts who make the evening news. Who can forget Warren Jeffs, his 14-year-old brides and the babies he fathered.
This week, our slightly odd neigh-bors in Utah stirred up another ruckus. Yup! It concerns another practice they promised to stop. But, Whoops! Like a poltergeist, It’s B-a-a-c-k! It seems that the Church has an official program to convert dead people of other faiths. It works like this: Get the name, birth & death dates, and other facts about anyone that you fancy. Then, assemble the faithful in a Utah mountain, sprinkle water on a voodoo effigy and pronounce the departed soul a faithful congregant.
Actually, I’m using a bit of artistic license with perhaps an unfair dose of sarcasm. Wikipedia offers this condensed explanation: A living person, acting as proxy, is baptized by immersion on behalf of a deceased person. After giving a short prayer that includes the name of the deceased individual, the proxy is immersed briefly in the water, then brought up again. Baptism for the dead is based on the belief that baptism is a required ordinance for entry into the Kingdom of God.
However the ritual plays out, suffice it to say that atheists and followers of other prophets are insulted. Why would anyone claim to baptize someone who can’t even consent? They’re baptizing the dead in the hopes that they will have one last chance to accept Jesus—or perhaps Joseph Smith—as prophet, savior, Mullah, whatever. (I apologize for being flippant. I shouldn’t blaspheme the rituals of others. But c’mon! It’s difficult to suppress a chuckle when someone dunks a stand-in for a departed Muslim or Jew and solemnly expects the unsuspecting corpse will switch horses and meet a new maker in the Afterlife.)
This practice has been reported in the past, when a journalist finds a prominent individual of another faith among the beneficiaries of this bizarre practice. The Church typically apologizes and promises to exclude the hapless corpse from a shot at everlasting life. But this time, they really caused a stink. This time, they exercised a ghostly baptism on the souls of Simon Wiesenthal and his parents. Wiesenthal, founded the Simon Wiesenthal Center and the Museum of Tolerance. He was a prominent concentration camp survivor who died in 1999. His parents were gassed by the Nazis. As you might imagine, his organization soundly protested the posthumous “baptisms” of their founder.
Today, Nobel Laureate, Elie Wiesel (another prominent camp survivor) publically asked Mitt Romney to instruct the Church to stop this practice. Of course, Romney is a candidate for President, but he is not a spokesman for the Mormon Church.
Wild Ducks have a different take on all of this. I have been reading about the practice of Mormons baptizing the dead by proxy with a chuckle. This one is a red herring, my friends. A fantasy play that is acted out within Mormon temple walls has no bearing on you, me, Elie Wiesel or Simon Wiesenthal. It is futile, harmless, and–if you ask me–outright goofy. But it certainly keeps them out of trouble.
I don’t think it is worth a second thought. Have you ever had a friend or roommate who is an Assembly-of-God Christian? It’s like asking them to stop praying for your soul. To coin a phrase by Sarah Palin, Good luck with that one!
Baptism is a symbol. It’s not real. The whole brouhaha reminds me of George Bush, Sr. and his obsession for criminalizing the burning of an American flag. Sometimes, we get symbols confused with the real thing. I recall one ardent supporter of a Flag Amendment who screamed “My brother died protecting that flag!” With all due respect for the dead brother…No, he did not! The flag is just a symbol, and you cannot force everyone to feel the same way about it. He died in his fight for what the flag represents. If a protester cannot burn a symbol, in what way would you prefer that he show his anger and frustration?
A friend forwarded a petition urging the LDS Church to stop a “heinous desecration”. I gave him the perspective that prompted me to post this article. I half expected him to be angered or insulted by my lack of respect for the dead. Instead, I was validated to read this quick response:
“The truth is I was a little confused about why we should care. If they give me $10, they can dunk me in a pool and call me a Mormon. I’ll continue with my own practice just like always, but I’ll have $10 to spend on a pizza!”
Exactly! To the non-Mormons who bristle at hearing that Mom, Dad or a favorite rock star was unwittingly converted, I say: They weren’t! They’re dead. It’s not as if a gravestone was vandalized. Leave the Mormons to their practices and get over it! Or better yet, get them converted back (Thanks to a reader comment, below!)
Update: Late today, The LDS Church apologized for including Simon Wiesenthal’s parents in their dead guy conversion rituals. Of course, they have back stepped before on this very same issue. But again, I say “Who Cares?” It keeps them off the streets and reasonably happy. When confronted by delusion – and if that delusion is manifest by harmless, self-contained ritual – I believe that it is best not to interfere.