By Trevor Antley.
Today during Sunday services, most members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints were read a letter from the Church’s First Presidency reminding them of Church policy for submitting names of the deceased for proxy temple ordinances.
“Without exception, Church members must not submit for proxy temple ordinances any names from unauthorized groups, such as celebrities and Jewish Holocaust victims,” reads a portion of the letter. It reminds members that their “preeminent obligation is to seek out and identify our own ancestors.” The letter also warned members that Church disciplinary action could come to those who continued to submit unauthorized names. It is against Church policy to submit the name of any person who has died without the permission of a direct descendant or Church authorization.
The stern reminder comes as the LDS Church and its members received negative media attention when it was reported that, despite a 1995 agreement between LDS and Jewish faith leaders to stop the proxy baptisms of Jewish Holocaust victims without permission of a direct descendant, the unauthorized proxy baptisms of Holocaust victims (and many survivors) continued to occur. The Church did not identify individuals who have continued to violate this policy but stated that these members have been blocked from submitting names in the future and that other disciplinary action could occur. “The church keeps its word and is absolutely firm in its commitment to not accept the names of Holocaust victims for proxy baptism,” a Church spokesman said in a statement last month.
It is unclear, however, what safeguards exist in the system to keep Church members from submitting the names of Holocaust victims and other controversial groups. The website FamilySearch.org, where names for proxy ordinances can be submitted by members online, only requires that someone click to state that they have the family’s permission to submit the name before it is processed in the system. It has long been rumored that other safeguards would be implemented to prevent abuse of the system.
Mormons believe that performing proxy ordinances such as baptism grants the deceased opportunities in the afterlife. It is a common misconception that proxy baptisms make these individuals “Mormons” or that they go on Church records as being LDS members. Actual members of the Church are quick to point out that the proxy ordinance does not force anything upon the deceased individual and only allows them the opportunity to choose in the afterlife.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is the only sizable Christian religion to perform baptisms for the dead, although scholars generally acknowledge that it was practiced by at least some early Christians.