You’ve probably heard about the current flap over the apparently unauthorized LDS proxy baptism of President Barak Obama’s deceased mother. People are offended on both sides of the issue. We’ve discussed this topic here on Mormon Coffee a couple of times over the years, when continuing LDS baptisms of Jewish Holocaust victims have been in the news. This time, though, there’s something related but different to talk about.
On the ABC News Political Punch blog, Senior White House Correspondent Jake Tapper wrote about the baptism of President Obama’s mother. Karen, a Mormon who commented on the blog, wrote,
“Baptisms for the Dead are just a symbolic gesture that we remember and love the deceased and welcome them into our faith. We understand that they have the same freedom in death as they had in life whether to accept or acknowledge our gesture.
“Consider the last chapter in the bible: [quoted Malachi 4:1, 5-6]
“We offer this gesture of symbolic baptism to demonstrate that our ‘hearts are turned to our fathers.’”
I was taken aback by Karen’s assertion that LDS baptisms for the dead are “just a symbolic gesture” to show that Mormons “remember and love the deceased.” According to the doctrines of Mormonism, do LDS baptisms for the dead have no actual effect on a person’s eternal state? Is the whole LDS program of providing “saving ordinances” for deceased people just for show? Not according to LDS leaders. For example:
“The greatest responsibility in this world that God has placed upon us is to seek after our dead” (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 356).
“How are they going to be saved? It is our duty to go to the temple and take our records and work for the dead of our own lineage as far back as we can go, but what about these others? I will tell you. The great work of the millennium, of 1,000 years, will be for the salvation of these souls” (Joseph Fielding Smith, Doctrines of Salvation 2:166-167).
“Furthermore, the dead are anxiously waiting for the Latter-day Saints to search out their names and then go into the temples to officiate in their behalf, that they may be liberated from their prison house in the spirit world” (Howard W. Hunter, “A Temple-Motivated People,” Ensign, March 2004, p. 41).
“Many of your deceased ancestors will have received a testimony that the message of the missionaries is true. When you received that testimony you could ask the missionaries for baptism. But those who are in the spirit world cannot. The ordinances you so cherish are offered only in this world. Someone in this world must go to a holy temple and accept the covenants on behalf of the person in the spirit world. That is why we are under obligation to find the names of our ancestors and ensure that they are offered by us what they cannot receive there without our help” (Henry B. Eyring, “Hearts Bound Together,” Ensign (Conference Edition), May 2005, p. 78).
Clearly, LDS baptism for the dead is necessary for the salvation of those who died without the ordinance. As quoted in Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Joseph Smith,
“We become saviors on Mount Zion by performing sacred ordinances for the dead.
“’The Saints have not too much time to save and redeem their dead, and gather together their living relatives, that they may be saved also, before the earth will be smitten, and the consumption decreed falls upon the world.
“’I would advise all the Saints to go to with their might and gather together all their living relatives to [the temple], that they may be sealed and saved, that they may be prepared against the day that the destroying angel goes forth; and if the whole Church should go to with all their might to save their dead, seal their posterity, and gather their living friends, and spend none of their time in behalf of the world, they would hardly get through before night would come, when no man can work.
“’There is baptism, etc., for those to exercise who are alive, and baptism for the dead who die without the knowledge of the Gospel. … It is not only necessary that you should be baptized for your dead, but you will have to go through all the ordinances for them, the same as you have gone through to save yourselves. …’” (“Chapter 41: Becoming Saviors on Mount Zion,” (2007), 472–474)
“Just a symbolic gesture”?