The LDS Church is in trouble – again – with the Jewish community over the Church’s continuing posthumous baptisms of Jewish Holocaust victims. (See here and here for background on the 13 year struggle regarding this issue.)
Monday (November 10, 2008) marked the 70th anniversary of Kristallnacht, the Nazi-incited riots against the Jews, considered to be the beginning of the Holocaust. Some survivors of the Holocaust and their families gathered in Manhattan to remember this important date. NPR reported,
“At the event names of the victims were read out loud. But these weren’t from the history books. The names came from the official records of the Mormon Church.”
The Mormon baptism of Jewish Holocaust victims is a very emotional and sensitive issue for their descendants, primarily because these Jews were murdered because they were Jewish. A Fox News article reported that Ernest Michel, the honorary chairman of the American Gathering of Holocaust Survivors, said,
“We ask you to respect us and our Judaism just as we respect your religion. We ask you to leave our six million Jews, all victims of the Holocaust, alone, they suffered enough.”
LDS spokesman Seventy Lance B. Wickman has a very different perspective on the question. He told reporters,
“We don’t think any faith group has the right to ask another to change its doctrines,. If our work for the dead is properly understood … it should not be a source of friction to anyone. It’s merely a freewill offering.”
But Mr. Michel, whose parents died in the Auschwitz concentration camp, has a deeper concern:
“They tell me, that my parents’ Jewishness has not been altered but … 100 years from now, how will they be able to guarantee that my mother and father of blessed memory who lived as Jews and were slaughtered by Hitler for no other reason than they were Jews, will someday not be identified as Mormon victims of the Holocaust?”
This is a complicated problem, and I certainly don’t know the best solution. Yet one aspect of this situation that I find particularly troubling is the Mormon lack of sensitivity toward the Jews’ concerns. I can understand LDS frustration over the unending and perhaps unsolvable dispute, but how is it that Mormons can’t seem to understand why the Jews even care about this? Consider a few comments left at the Deseret News web site:
“Why does it matter if you don’t believe in it anyway?”
“Perhaps, the Jews ought to stop playing victim, and realize other religions have legitimate and sacred intentions and purposes which they believe are necessary for the salvation of the dead.”
“I think this is foolishness on the part of the Jewish people that want to stop the baptisms…I think the living Jewish people should be glad that the Mormons care enough to bestow blessing on their dead”
I do not mean to trivialize Jewish history and the horrors heaped on Jews through the Holocaust, but I’d like to invite Mormons to think about something else that is in the news right now. Opponents of California’s Proposition 8 (the recently passed state constitutional amendment defining marriage as the union between one man and one woman) have instituted an online initiative to raise money for the overturn of the amendment. On November 6th PR Newswire reported that, due to the “leading role” the LDS Church played in funding the campaign to pass Proposition 8, a Los Angeles opposition group planned to “send a message to the Mormon Church”:
“For each donation of $5 or more…the Center will send [LDS President Thomas S.] Monson a postcard to let him know a donation was made in his name to fund legal organizations fighting Prop 8…”
I think it would be safe to say that President Monson and those who call him prophet would prefer that this initiative be stopped – or at least changed to keep President Monson’s name out of it. But why should Mormons care? President Monson isn’t really supporting an effort to redefine marriage to include same-gender unions. He doesn’t really believe in it. Shouldn’t everyone be glad that people who believe differently than President Monson still care enough to honor his name via vicarious support of an effort they believe is good and right?
But President Monson is not honored by this initiative. Those who care about him care about the dishonor they believe is being attached to his name. And, perhaps someday, clouding his memory.
One might argue that there are vastly different motivations driving these two proxy situations, making them impossible to compare. The baptisms are done in loving service; the donations in disrespect. But I submit that though the motivations are different, the principle is the same. “A good name is better than precious ointment” (Ecclesiastes 7:1), and “A good name is to be chosen rather than great riches” (Proverbs 22:1).
Why should the Jews care about Mormon baptisms that they don’t believe in anyway? Because protecting a cherished name and memory is how we honor those we love.