Saturday, April 16, 2005

Jews, Mormons tackle 'proxy baptism'

From the Jerusalem Post:

Jewish and Mormon leaders avoided a potential crisis in relations after a meeting this week over the practice of proxy baptisms for deceased Jews. Although the meeting produced little in the way of practical results, participants from both sides told The Jerusalem Post that the meeting was deeply emotional and ultimately fruitful, with both sides coming away with a deeper understanding of the other.
Representatives of Holocaust survivor groups and Jewish genealogical societies have been at odds with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (LDS), the official name of the Mormon church, ever since the discovery over a decade ago of hundreds of thousands of Holocaust victims' names in the church's baptism database.
In the proxy baptisms, church members stand in for the deceased non-Mormons, a ritual the church says is required for the dead to reach heaven. Even beyond the grave, the church believes, individuals have the ability to choose their religion.
The Mormons call the ritual "a gift of love." But not everyone sees it that way.
Rabbi Ernest Michel, an Auschwitz survivor and the chairman of the World Gathering of Jewish Holocaust Survivors, has been the most outspoken critic of the practice and a leading member of delegations to the church.
In 1995, Michel and other Jewish leaders signed an agreement with the Mormon leadership which called for an immediate halt to unwanted proxy baptisms. After evidence was found in the church's massive International Genealogical Index that the baptisms for many Jews – including Anne Frank, David Ben-Gurion and Albert Einstein – continued, the agreement was reaffirmed in 2002.
However, recent evidence that thousands of Holocaust victims were still in the baptism lists reignited the controversy, bringing Michel and others to the church's headquarters in Salt Lake City for another meeting this week.
As a result of that meeting, the church has reaffirmed its commitment to the 1995 agreement, and vowed to enforce church president Gordon B. Hinckley's directive to members to limit their submissions for proxy baptisms to people in their own family lines. Also, the sides agreed to establish a joint oversight committee to be convened in roughly 60-90 days to explore reasons why the names keep popping up on the IGI list.
Gary Mokotoff, the past president of the International Association of Jewish Genealogical Societies who will head the Jewish side of the joint commission, said that individual church members had managed to circumvent the current monitoring process by misspelling names.
"There's guaranteed to be a trickle going through the screen," he said, "but it's been very embarrassing for the Mormons."
Mike Otterson, director of media relations for the church, told the Post that the church was working on creating a mechanism to prevent "overzealous members" from violating the agreement.
Elder D. Todd Christofferson – a member of the church's Presidency of the Seventy – added that the church could not practice any sort of "unbaptism rite" to undo unwanted proxy baptisms, but he said that the church would "remove from public view any reminder that that was ever done in the past."
Throughout the past decade, Mormons have been wary of Jewish criticism because of their history of persecution at the hands of other Christian groups and American officials over their religious beliefs. Likewise, the Jewish groups that have complained about the posthumous baptisms have been extremely sensitive about the memory of their forefathers and their own history of religious persecution.
"Everyone walked into the meeting with such anxiety, with a feeling of being victimized by the other," said David Elcott, US director of interreligious affairs for the American Jewish Committee, who served as a mediator for the meeting. "The Jews felt that the 1995 agreement was being ignored, and the Mormon church felt that it was being attacked and impugned for its beliefs."
The Mormons were also deeply concerned, Elcott said, "about the way the Jewish community politicizes issues, using political power to try to get our way."
Mormons are generally very supportive of Jews and Israel, a fact that Jewish leaders have recognized in their dealings with the church.
Mokotoff said he had gone to Salt Lake City to convey how important the issue was to Jews, and to make the point that "we won't allow it to simply go away." But he was impressed, he said, at the sincerity shown by the high-level Mormon delegates.
"Most Christians dismiss Mormons as heretics," said Elcott. "So what I tried to explain to them was that we had come there because we take them seriously. And because of that, this issue means something for us."
After the church leaders heard that, Elcott said, "then they took us seriously."
"Part of our meeting was to define understanding," said Christofferson, "not just to define consensus, but to understand.
"The fact that we're both minorities and that we both have experienced persecution... makes us more open to each other," added Otterson. "There's work to do yet, and we'll be continuing our talks. But I feel [our relationship] is on a sound footing."
"The whole reason we're in this," concluded Christofferson, "is because of the sensitivity we have for Jews."


Blogger Askinstoo said...

Nice Blog!!!   I thought I'd tell you about a site that will let give you places where
you can make extra cash! I made over $800 last month. Not bad for not doing much. Just put in your
zip code and up will pop up a list of places that are available. I live in a small area and found quite

11:27 PM  
Blogger all about news and such said...

I just came across your blog about genealogy and wanted to drop you a note telling you how impressed I was with the information you have posted here. I also have a web site about genealogy so I know what I'm talking about when I say your site is top-notch! Keep up the great work, you are providing a great resource on the Internet here! If you get a chance, please stop by genealogy

5:02 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home