Baptizing the Gentile Dead

April 12, 2004 | 6 comments

First Things’s Fr. Neuhaus has noticed the efforts of some Jewish groups to keep holocaust victims from our vicarious baptism (about 4/5′s down, the 23rd bulletpoint under While We’re At It). Although apparently retracting his concession that we’re ‘marginal Christians,’ he definitely takes our side. Why worry about baptism, he says, if you believe it has no effect?

Fr. Neuhaus discusses a lawsuit in the works, but I can’t confirm it.

For some previous discussion, see here and here.


6 Responses to Baptizing the Gentile Dead

  1. Connie on April 12, 2004 at 4:53 pm

    This kind of thing astounds me.

    While I don’t fully understand the Baptism of the Dead, my exposure to it has been quite pleasant.

    My great grandfather was staunch Greek Orthodox as is most of my family. After my great grandmother died, he met and married the woman I grew to know as “Gramma Rainey” a wonderful devout LDS woman who lived with him and cared for him for 47 years.

    They each held their religious beliefs as precious, but neither coverted. Lorraine happily gave donations to the Greek Church, and my great grandfather returned in kind to the LDS Church. Their marriage was built on faith in God and in each other, and could withstand their differences.

    When my great grandfather died, Rainey dutifully dressed him as is appropriate for an LDS man, as she intended to complete his temple work after his passing. In the Orthodox way, however, this was an abomination (dressing in white), and, unfortunately, he had to be redressed according to Greek custom (dark colors) before the church could proceed with my great grandfather’s wishes of a Greek burial. It was quite trying on my family.

    What is wonderful, I believe, is that my Rainey died one year to the day of that funeral. She lived long enough to accomplish the temple rites she sought, and she was comforted in the fact that she had done what she could to be sealed to him for all eternity.

    Does this effect how I feel about my Rainey? Yes, it does. She showed how much she loved my great grandfather through her belief in an eternal love and an eternal marriage. Does it effect anything else? No. And it shouldn’t.

    Baptism of the dead harms no one. Why us non-mormons are so afraid of it is beyond me.

  2. Geoff Matthews on April 12, 2004 at 6:49 pm

    I tend to share Connie’s attitude, albeit as a practicing Mormon. If I think something is invalid, why should I bother myself over it? I tend to think that most objections to the practice fall in the categories of ignorance or worrying what others think of you.

  3. MDS on April 12, 2004 at 6:52 pm

    The threat of litigation is interesting. My first thought was that there would definitely be standing issues if suing on behalf of the Jewish dead, but then, the suit would likely focus on the agreement and the breaches.

  4. Robert on April 13, 2004 at 1:49 am

    As a gentile, I have always thought of baptisms for the dead as rather charming. Although I am comfortable in my own faith, and in its understanding of life and cosmos, I cannot definitively say that it is the correct interpretation of the way things are or should be. Baptisms for the dead seem to be an opportunity for a second chance. If I have been led astray, then I have a chance to get back.

    On another note, as a Buddhist, this practice seems to me to have more commonality with Buddhist/Hindu practice than it does with Christian denominations that identify as Catholic or Protestant. My congregation frequently makes offerings in memory of departed persons who were not Buddhist in life. The purpose is somewhat similar to the Mormon baptism of the dead in that the recipient of the “merit” provided by the ceremony will receive some benefit from it in the heavenly realm. Again, the deceased recipient need not be a Buddhist to receive the “merit.”

  5. Grasshopper on April 13, 2004 at 12:46 pm

    Isn’t (or wasn’t) there a similar Catholic practice?

  6. Nathan Cardon on April 13, 2004 at 2:12 pm

    I guess the question I have, in terms of legal issues, is whether there was an actual written agreement. I don’t know that that would change any of the hierarchy’s obligations, but it would probably change the nature of how I thought about the matter. It seems, frankly, bizarre to me to think that two theological entities would enter into a contract over the theological rites of one of the sects.


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