In May 2009 it was revealed that someone had performed Mormon (The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) baptism for the dead on behalf of U.S. President Barack Obama's mother, Stanley Ann Dunham, who passed away in 1995. As usual, the news was met with a combination of apathy and outrage.
Mormons practice baptism for the dead, as commanded by God to ancient and modern prophets, because God is perfectly just. (The Apostle Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 15:29: "Else what shall they do which are baptized for the dead, if the dead rise not at all? Why are they then baptized for the dead?") God has established the ordinance of baptism as the gateway to His kingdom and wishes every one of His children to have access to the ordinance, so that all may enter. Most of the people who have lived on the earth have had no access to Christian ordinances, so the Church baptizes by proxy those ancestors who have passed on. People continue to live after death, and they retain the free will and volition they had on earth. Thus, they are free to accept or ignore the ordinances performed for them. So Stanley Ann Dunham is not now a Mormon. The dead who are baptized by proxy are not counted on the records of the Church. Nor are church members supposed to be baptized for people who are not their own ancestors. When a church member attempts to arrange ordinances for a recently deceased person, the request is flagged, and counsel is given to obtain approval from relatives before proceeding. Such performance of ordinances is not meant to be secret or offensive. Nor are Mormons trying to be judgmental or arrogant. They are simply and charitably trying to do the work ordained by God for the benefit of all His children.
In a U.S.A. Today article posted on May 6, 2009, written by Cathy Lynn Grossman, we find the following:
- Kim Farah, a spokeswoman for the LDS Church, confirms that the proxy baptisms of Dunham did take place. "These are outside of LDS policy, which requires that the person registering a proxy baptism for someone who has died can only do it for a relative," she says, however, she adds,
- "Well-meaning Church members sometimes bypass this instruction and submit the names of non-relatives for temple baptism. Others -- perhaps pranksters or careless persons -- have submitted the names of unrelated famous or infamous people, or even wholly fictitious names. These rare acts are contrary to Church policy and sometimes cause pain and embarrassment. They are also extremely difficult to prevent because the temple baptism process depends on voluntary compliance by millions of Church members around the world. The Church nearly always learns about problems after the fact."
- In the case of Obama's mother, Farah says,
- "The Church is looking into the circumstances of how this happened and does not yet have all the facts. However, this is a serious matter and we are treating it as such."
- But she takes issue with Aravosis on the idea that souls are being switched from one faith to LDS without the knowledge or consent of their living families. Farah tells me in an email that,
- "The practice is rooted in the belief that certain sacred sacraments, such as baptism, are required to enter the kingdom of heaven and that a just God will give everyone who ever lived a fair opportunity to receive them, whether in this life or the next. Church members who perform temple baptisms for their deceased relatives are motivated by love and sincere concern for the welfare of all of God's children. According to Church doctrine, a departed soul in the afterlife is completely free to accept or reject such a baptism -- the offering is freely given and must be freely received. The Church has never claimed the power to force deceased persons to become Church members or Mormons, and it does not list them as such on its records. The notion of coerced conversion is utterly contrary to Church doctrine (U.S.A. Today, May 6, 2009).
- Some have misunderstood and suppose that deceased souls “are being baptised into the Mormon faith without their knowledge” or that “people who once belonged to other faiths can have the Mormon faith retroactively imposed on them.” They assume that we somehow have power to force a soul in matters of faith. Of course, we do not. God gave man his agency from the beginning. “The dead who repent will be redeemed, through obedience to the ordinances of the house of God,” but only if they accept those ordinances. The Church does not list them on its rolls or count them in its membership.
- Our anxiety to redeem the dead, and the time and resources we put behind that commitment, are, above all, an expression of our witness concerning Jesus Christ. It constitutes as powerful a statement as we can make concerning His divine character and mission. It testifies, first, of Christ’s Resurrection; second, of the infinite reach of His Atonement; third, that He is the sole source of salvation; fourth, that He has established the conditions for salvation; and, fifth, that He will come again.
Interestingly, Ancestry.com, the organization that traced Obama's Irish ancestry in 2007, has discovered his German roots back to the 1700s with help from information found at the Salt Lake City LDS Genealogy Library. To read more, click here.
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