Associated Press Helen Radkey, who has spent two decade monitoring the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, says Mormons are posthumously baptizing Holocaust victims as well as others, despite church rules intended to restrict the ceremonies to a member's ancestors.
Friday, December 22, 2017 1:00 am
Mormons baptizing Holocaust victims
SALT LAKE CITY – Mormons are posthumously baptizing Holocaust victims as well as grandparents of public figures like Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton and Steven Spielberg, despite church rules intended to restrict the ceremonies to a member's ancestors, according to a researcher who has spent two decades monitoring the church's massive genealogical database.
The discoveries made by former Mormon Helen Radkey and shared with The Associated Press likely will bring new scrutiny to a deeply misunderstood practice that has become a sensitive issue for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The church, in a statement, acknowledged the ceremonies violated its policy and said they would be invalidated, while also noting it has created safeguards in recent years to improve compliance.
Proxy baptisms are tied to a church teaching that families spend eternity together, but the baptisms do not automatically convert dead people to Mormonism. Under church teachings, the rituals provide the deceased a choice in the afterlife to accept or reject the offer of baptism.
The church's stance on family and the afterlife is behind a massive collection of genealogical records the church compiles and makes available to the public through its www.familysearch.org.
Posthumous baptisms are performed at the church's 159 temples around the globe, mostly by young people. Members are escorted to a decorative baptismal font resting on statutes of 12 oxen. An adult or older teen male reads a short prayer, and the member – representing the dead relative – is immersed in water.
Proxy baptisms are recorded in a password-protected part of the database accessible only to church members. Radkey, who left the church in the mid-1970s and was later excommunicated after publicly criticizing it, was blocked from the part of the database that shows the baptisms until recently getting a login from a Mormon friend.
The suburban Salt Lake City woman has dedicated hours to researching proxy baptisms because she believes people's religious preferences should be respected even after they're dead.
Ryan Cragun, an associate professor of sociology who studies Mormonism at the University of Tampa, said Mormons are striving to baptize everyone who has ever lived to help get non-Mormons out of “spirit prison” in the afterlife and receive exaltation.
One reason for performing the ritual on Holocaust victims is that their names are easy to find in government records, which creates an efficient way to quickly baptize more people, said Cragun, who was raised Mormon but no longer belongs to the church.
The baptisms of public figures are likely based on two factors, he added.
First, people naturally think about celebrities more often because they see them on TV and in movies or hear them on the radio.
Secondly, Mormons are similar to other social groups in that they like to claim famous people as their own.