Pact Ends Mormon Baptism of Dead Jews : Holocaust: Survivors were upset to learn that victims of the Nazis were being immersed by proxy. The church agrees to stop the practice and remove the names of about 380,000 Jews from its rolls.
Jewish and Mormon leaders signed an agreement Wednesday to remove the names of about 380,000 Holocaust victims from the Mormon church’s list of people baptized after death.
The brief ceremony was intended to end a controversy that arose last year after some Jewish Holocaust survivors learned, to their shock and surprise, that relatives had been baptized into the Christian faith after they perished in World War II’s Nazi death camps.
According to a church statement, baptizing the dead is a central tenet of the Mormon Church, which views the proxy baptisms “as a labor of love” that makes it possible for individuals who died without knowledge of the Gospel--as interpreted by Mormons--to achieve salvation.
Although the practice has no religious importance from the Jewish perspective, the proxy baptisms of Jews have irritated some, who view it as disrespectful of individuals who were murdered by the Nazis solely because they were Jewish.
Mormon Church officials in M arch, 1991, directed members to stop baptizing Holocaust victims, but the ban was violated by some overzealous record gatherers, who were motivated by “love and compassion” after visiting Holocaust museums and memorials, said Monte Brough, executive director of the church’s Family History Department.
“They were deeply moved by the tragedy of that terrible, terrible event,” but did not realize that what they intended as a “Christian act of service” was “misguided and insensitive,” he said.
Don LeFevre, a public affairs official for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, said the baptisms of Holocaust victims were not sanctioned by church leaders, and contravene the church’s “95-year rule,” which expressly forbids the baptizing of anyone born less than 95 years ago unless family permission has been obtained.
However, LeFevre added that the 95-year rule is difficult to enforce among the world’s more than 9 million Mormons scattered across 156 nations and territories.
More than 200 million proxy baptisms have been performed since the practice began in 1842, 12 years after Joseph Smith founded Mormonism. A Mormon stands in for the deceased during the baptism ceremony, which includes full immersion in water.
With this week’s agreement, the Mormon Church will direct all of its officials and members to discontinue baptisms of deceased Jews, except those who are ancestors of living church members or whose families give permission.
The agreement, approved by five major Jewish groups two weeks ago, calls for all of the Jewish Holocaust victims’ names to be removed from the church’s vast International Genealogical Index.
The church maintains the world’s largest genealogical library. About 200 million of its 2 billion names were added after posthumous baptisms. Brough said it will take several months for computers to find and permanently remove the names of the 380,000 Holocaust victims on their rolls.
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