Monday, March 5, 2012

Baptism for Holocaust Victims: Principle vs Public Relations

The issue of proxy baptisms in the LDS Temples being performed for victims of the Holocaust has been a sore point for several years, and has come to international attention once again.  This is at least in part because of the increased scrutiny of the Church in connection with the Presidential campaign of Mitt Romney.  Basically, and understandably, many people of Jewish descent are offended by the concept of their ancestors, who died in large measure because of their religious faith and identity, being ‘converted’ to the LDS Church, without their consent.

The Church has in the past, and again in the current situation, vowed to discontinue this practice, and is often seen favorably because of their being ‘sensitive’ to the feelings of those who have been objecting.

I see this whole matter in a very different context, and would like to address why I find the statements and actions of the Church to be hypocritical.

Having spent several decades as an active, devoted member, I was taught consistently and repeatedly, the importance of integrity, and making decisions according to one’s principles, even when it was not easy, convenient, or comfortable to do so:

On Sundays, the congregation often joined together singing:

“Do what is right, let the consequence follow...
“Do what is right; be faithful and fearless”

“Choose the right! There is peace in righteous doing.
Choose the right! There's safety for the soul.
Choose the right in all labors you're pursuing;
Let God and heaven be your goal.”

Children, and often adults, wear the official “CTR” ring - Choose The Right - as a constant reminder to make the right choices.

We were often instructed to follow the example and counsel given in the Book of Mormon (1 Nephi 3:7):

And it came to pass that I, Nephi, said unto my father: I will go and do the things which the Lord hath commanded, for I know that the Lord giveth no commandments unto the children of men, save he shall prepare a way for them that they may accomplish the thing which he commandeth them.

This is actually a significant part of what attracted me to the Church in the first place: the insistence on personal integrity, and I earnestly strived to teach this principle to my children.

Next, consider how the Church expresses its purpose in the world, in the form of the “Threefold Mission of the Church”:

  1. Proclaim the Gospel
  2. Perfect the Saints
  3. Redeem the Dead

This is the sacred trust that the LDS Church states is its reason for existence, the command it has received from its God.  Just to clarify, “Redeem the Dead” refers to the practice of performing all Temple Ordinances, including Baptism, on behalf of all those who have gone before, who did not have the opportunity of hearing and receiving the Gospel while they lived on earth.

Interestingly, this is another teaching that first attracted me to the Church: if one accepts at face value the teaching of Jesus Christ in the New Testament that all have to be baptized to enter into His Kingdom, this practice provides a way to avoid anyone being deprived of this opportunity because of where and when they happened to be born.  This was much more just than, and a far cry from, so many other Christian denominations who basically wrote these people off, consigning them to a Hell of some sort, simply because they had never been baptized.

And yet when the Church is challenged on its principles, it does not follow the counsel it has given to its members, it doesn’t “go and do the things which the Lord hath commanded.”  It simply bows to public pressure and abandons its principles.

In this incident, as in so many other matters, it is clearly demonstrated that the Church functions more as a Corporation, than a Church.  It is more concerned about its Public Relations, than remaining true to its principles.  Ironically, as one of Jewish descent myself, I would actually have more respect for the Church if it were more courageous in its devotion to its conception of truth, however much I might disagree with it.

I expected the Church to behave the same as it taught me to behave.  I expected it to “Choose The Right.”  How naive I was...