Mormonism and temples/Work for Holocaust victims
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has done and continues to perform proxy baptisms (baptisms for the dead) in behalf of victims of the Shoah, the Jewish Holocaust. These baptisms continue to be performed despite repeated requests from the Jewish community to end the practice and remove all Jewish Holocaust names from the Church's genealogical records used for posthumous baptisms.
While work toward the complete removal of all Holocaust victims' names from the Church's database continues, controversy and frustration may well continue to surface. It is important to remember that progress has been made, and that as temple approval safeguards become more sophisticated, one can hope that misguided individuals will be much less able to violate the agreement.
Furthermore, now that it is clear that some few members are not respecting the agreement, the databases will doubtless be monitored by interested parties, who can bring violations to the Church’s attention.
Those of the Jewish faith are to be commended for the spirit of dialogue and cooperation in which they have approached this matter, and their willingness to work with the Church to solve it.
There have also been some moving expressions of friendship between Mormons and Jews; some Jewish authors have pointed out that belief and theology matter much less than behavior and brotherhood, and on this score Mormon-Jewish relations have always been excellent.
In 1995—after it was learned that a substantial number of Holocaust victims were listed in the Church's temple records as having been baptized—an agreement was signed between the Church and leading Jewish authorities which officially ended baptizing Jewish Holocaust victims posthumously.
Controversy over the matter flared again in 2002 when it was found that there was still thousands of Holocaust victims’ names in the Church's records. The Church responded by re-enforcing its policy for temple work, which requires that members only perform proxy baptisms for ancestors to whom they can demonstrate a familial link. Furthermore, the Church established a committee with Jewish leaders to investigate why the names of Holocaust victims remained in the database.
More concern was expressed in 2006, when it was discovered that there were still many Holocaust victims' names in the database.
Mistakes in the database
Despite critics' claims, fingers should not be pointed at the institutional Church in this instance. Instead, the fault lies with a few misguided members, who took active steps to circumvent the Church’s policies:
- Gary Mokotoff [...] who will head the Jewish side of the joint commission, said that individual church members had managed to circumvent the current monitoring process by misspelling names. "There's guaranteed to be a trickle going through the screen," he said, "but it's been very embarrassing for the Mormons." Mike Otterson, director of media relations for the church, told the Post that the church was working on creating a mechanism to prevent "overzealous members" from violating the agreement.
Counsel of LDS leaders
Church general authorities have asked members to concentrate on completing the work for their own ancestors. Elder Russell M. Nelson of the Quorum of the Twelve taught:
- Here, on this side of the veil, there are limitations of available time and temples. This means that choosing to identify and perform ordinances for our own kindred should receive our highest priority. The Spirit of Elijah will inspire individual members of the Church to link their generations, rather than submit lists of people or popular personalities to whom they are unrelated. Now, we are mindful of those not of our faith who are concerned about or even offended by the practice of temple ordinances for the dead. To them we say, our Heavenly Father directed the restoration of keys of priesthood authority and surely intended no offense to any of His children. Quite to the contrary. He intended to bless them. This doctrine and its ordinances are laden with love and are intended to perpetuate the sweetest of all relationships — in families forever.
- Nevertheless, the Church is sensitive to these concerns. The First Presidency has asked that, as far as possible, individual rights of privacy be protected. In 1972, they wrote, "Persons submitting names for other than direct ancestors [should] have obtained approval from the closest living relative of the deceased before submitting records of persons born within the last ninety-five years." In addition, reminders of rights of precedence and privacy appear each time our computer programs are used.
- [note] Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, "The Mormons are Jews' brothers," Deseret Morning News (30 December 2003). off-site
- [note] Jerusalem Post, "Jews and Mormons tackle 'proxy baptism' controversy," jpost.com (accessed 2 June 2006). off-site
- [note] Russell M. Nelson, "The Spirit Of Elijah," Ensign (November 1994), 84. off-site
- SAM SER, "Jews and Mormons tackle 'proxy baptism' controversy. Huge numbers of Holocaust victims are in church's baptism database," Jerusalem Post, Online Edition (26 April 2005)(accessed 1 June 2006). off-site