Tuesday, May 5, 2009

LDS Church Officially Disavows Posthumous Proxy Baptism Of Barack Obama's Mother, Stanley Ann Durham

On May 5th, 2009, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints officially disavowed the posthumous proxy baptism of Stanley Ann Durham, the mother of President Barack Obama. This doesn't mean that they invalidated it; it simply means that the Church denounced it as not being in accordance with the prescribed Church policy on such baptisms.

An LDS Church spokesperson explained that "the offering of baptism to our deceased ancestors is a sacred practice to us and it is counter to Church policy for a Church member to submit names for baptism for persons to whom they are not related. 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." A more complete statement has since been posted on KSL Channel 5; and here's a earlier background statement on LDS Newsroom from November 2008.

The baptism record was discovered through a search of FamilySearch.org. Records on the site, which is the LDS Church's genealogical site, show that Stanley Ann Dunham received proxy rites in the Provo temple on June 4th and June 8th of 2008. The birth and death dates of the person for whom the rites were performed match those of Obama's mother. A screenshot of the actual record is posted on Politico. Dunham's name has been submitted multiple times by at least three people in three states.

For almost two centuries, Mormons have performed baptisms on behalf of deceased relatives, but church members are counseled to request temple baptism only on behalf of their relatives. To do so for those who are not relatives is contrary to Church policy. The LDS Church previously ran afoul of the American Gathering of Holocaust Survivors over the efforts by Mormons to posthumously baptize Jews who died as a result of the Jewish Holocaust; the history of this conflict was documented in greater detail in this previous post. As a result of persistent Jewish objections, the Church is changing their massive genealogical database to make it more difficult for names of Holocaust victims to be entered for posthumous baptism by proxy.

Specifically, the Church removed 260,000 names of victims submitted to its International Genealogical Index. Subsequently, 43,000 additional names -- 42,000 of them identified by the church -- had made their way into the system, only to be removed, which demonstrates that the Church is monitoring the process to ensure it is upholding its end of the deal. But Catholics were also troubled by the issue; early in 2008, the Vatican called LDS baptisms for the dead a “detrimental practice” and directed each Catholic diocesan bishop not to cooperate with the erroneous practices of the LDS Church. But the Vatican ruling had minimal impact on Catholic-Mormon relations; both groups cooperated to stop gay marriage in California.

Proxy baptism for the dead is an ordinance based upon the LDS belief that those who do not receive essential ordinances in this life can receive them by proxy. When Mormons research vital records to identify their kindred dead, they then submit those names to the Church. If the member is temple-worthy, in possession of a temple recommend, then he or she will go to the temple and perform those vicarious ordinances personally; otherwise, they are performed by others who are temple-worthy.

But once the ordinances are performed, the Church does not list persons as members of the Church or "Mormons", because it is unknown at that point whether or not the intended beneficiary in the spirit world has accepted the ordinances as binding. Church doctrine merely teaches that at some point in the future, the spirit of the deceased person will be informed that a baptism has been performed on his or her behalf and will be offered the opportunity to accept or reject it. Read more information on baptisms for the dead on the LDS website. Other ordinances performed for the dead include temple marriage (valid for eternity), sealings, and endowments.

Reaction now beginning to show up on the Bloggernacle. Times and Seasons, A Soft Answer and Mormon Matters have already weighed in. There has been no reaction from the Obama Administration to this story. Perhaps President Obama is too busy still trying to find that pesky birth certificate. LOL!

There is no logical reason for anyone to object to vicarious ordinances for the dead. First, according to LDS doctrine, they do not take effect unless or until the intended beneficiary in the spirit world accepts them as binding. Second, if you don't believe these ordinances have any effect, then why would you object to them in the first place? And finally, since when do you "own" your ancestors?

The Church has made a reasonable compromise in directing its members to restrict the practice to only those in their own family tree. No other compromises are necessary.


baltogeek said...

While I think that most non-LDS people would view the idea of baptizing the dead as odd that isn't the point of the uproar over things like this.

What bothers many people including me is that there doesn't seem to be alot of respect for the wishes of either the deceased person who has been baptized or their surviving family members.

People see this as needlessly meddling with the memories of people that they love.

It comes off as cruel that Mormons don't recognize this.

People may not believe in the same things you do but they love their family members as much as Mormons love their family members and would wish for the memories of their loved ones not to be violated in this way.

Also from a religious standpoint, other believers would certainly object to any baptism made by another religion.

Would Mormons tolerate Southern Baptists baptizing their dead? Would Mormons tolerate that kind of disrespect towards their beliefs?

I would hope not.

Deseret Dawg said...

Baltogeek - If the Southern Baptist explanation of the process was the same as the LDS explanation, I would not be bothered by it. Remember, we in the LDS community proclaim that the ordinance has no effect unless the intended beneficiary accepts it. So it boils down to a matter of faith - do you believe it or not.

We've made a major compromise by directing Church members to limit it to their own ancestors. To compromise further would require abandoning the practice - which we won't do. We don't expect the Catholics to abandon infant baptism simply because we disagree with it, so we see no reason why we should abandon vicarious ordinances for the dead simply because some people disagree with it.