Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Official LDS Church Statement In Reaction To Proxy Baptism Of The Late Stanley Ann Durham, Mother Of Barack Obama

The report of the posthumous proxy baptism of Stanley Ann Durham, the mother of President Barack Obama, has generated yet another round of anti-Mormon hysteria amongst those who are terminally contemptuous of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, as well as genuine concern amongst those who honestly misunderstand the intent and purposes of LDS ordinances on behalf of the dead.

A screenshot of the actual record is posted on Politico. Reaction on Joe.My.God, the AmericaBlog, the Salt Lake Crawler, and Mormon Curtain was bitterly critical and regurgitated some classic anti-Mormon canards. In contrast, a sampling of unofficial LDS reaction by individual members is now posted on the Bloggernacle, to include Times and Seasons, A Soft Answer and Mormon Matters. For its part, the Obama Administration has not reacted to this development.

The proxy baptism of Stanley Ann Durham was not done with the official sanction of the Church, and represents a departure from the manner in which Latter-day Saints are directed to pursue and undertake this ordinance. The LDS Church issued a full statement, posted on the KSL Channel 5 website. For further dissemination, the statement is cross-posted below in full:

Statement from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints:

The offering of baptism to our deceased ancestors is a sacred practice to us and it is counter to Church policy for a Church member to submit names for baptism for persons to whom they are not related. The Church is looking into the circumstances of how this happened and does not yet have all the facts. However, this is a serious matter and we are treating it as such.

Doctrinal Background

For nearly 180 years, members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints have performed baptisms in Church temples on behalf of deceased relatives. The practice is rooted in the belief that certain sacred sacraments, such as baptism, are required to enter the kingdom of heaven and that a just God will give everyone who ever lived a fair opportunity to receive them, whether in this life or the next. Church members who perform temple baptisms for their deceased relatives are motivated by love and sincere concern for the welfare of all of God's children. According to Church doctrine, a departed soul in the afterlife is completely free to accept or reject such a baptism — the offering is freely given and must be freely received. The Church has never claimed the power to force deceased persons to become Church members or Mormons, and it does not list them as such on its records. The notion of coerced conversion is utterly contrary to Church doctrine.

Although the Church believes everyone must ultimately have the opportunity to receive the sacraments of salvation, Church members are counseled to request temple baptism only on behalf of their relatives. However, well-meaning Church members sometimes bypass this instruction and submit the names of non-relatives for temple baptism. Others — perhaps pranksters or careless persons — have submitted the names of unrelated famous or infamous people, or even wholly fictitious names. These rare acts are contrary to Church policy and sometimes cause pain and embarrassment. They are also extremely difficult to prevent because the temple baptism process depends on voluntary compliance by millions of Church members around the world. The Church nearly always learns about problems after the fact.

The LDS Church's current policy on posthumous ordinances for the dead evolved as a result of complaints directed towards them by a Jewish extremist group, the American Gathering of Holocaust Survivors, beginning in 1995. Church authorities subsequently reached an agreement with them not to posthumously baptize Jewish Holocaust victims unless they are actual ancestors of current LDS members. And the policy is enforced and has worked reasonably well; since that time, the Church removed 260,000 names of victims submitted to its International Genealogical Index. In addition, 43,000 additional names -- 42,000 of them identified by the church -- have since been found and removed, which demonstrates that the Church is monitoring the process to ensure it is upholding its end of the deal. There are no other reasonable precautions that the Church can be expected to take.

Terminating the practice is not an option. Our legal religious practices and ordinances are not subject to the so-called "court of public opinion". We don't expect other faiths or denominations to change practices with which we disagree; likewise, we will not entertain such requests from others. Major historical doctrinal changes, such as the Manifesto of 1890, which indefinitely suspended the practice of plural marriage, and the Revelation of 1978, which extended Priesthood membership to all worthy LDS males, were not enacted because of popular opinion, but because of divine revelation. You either believe it or you don't.

By the way, Ardis Parshall has just revealed through his research that one of Stanley Ann Durham's ancestors was a member of what was once referred to as the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, now known as the Community of Christ.

More doctrinal background on vicarious ordinances for the dead can be found at the following links:

-- November 2008 Background statement on LDS Newsroom
-- LDS Gospel Library Link - Baptisms for the Dead
-- Jeff Lindsay's FAQ on Baptism for the Dead
-- Light Planet: Baptism for the Dead


In The Doghouse said...

Great information, thanks for sharing. The post by Ardis is really well done. I recommend it highly.

Jack Mormon said...

The post by Ardis was exceptionally enlightening and valuable, and makes up for the fact that he sometimes plays the race card a bit much throughout his other stops on the Bloggernacle circuit.

The Church leadership itself can only do so much to counter inaccurate reporting and negative biases about us. It's up to the rest of us to amplify and spread the truth to the four corners of the earth. The term "every member a missionary" doesn't mean we all need to don suits and ties (or skirts) and knock on doors. It means we are prepared to use other tools to promote a knowledge and understanding of the Gospel.

Ardis E. Parshall said...

Ardis is a she -- and "race card," Jack? You must be confusing me with someone else. I have a race post scheduled for tomorrow, but I have never done any other race post, and I don't think I've ever commented on anyone else's race post. Since I'm white, I can't imagine how anything I have said anywhere on any other subject could be construed as playing my own race's card, either. Weird comment, Jack, really weird.