Obama’s Mom, Holocaust Survivors and Proxy Temple Work

May 5, 2009 | 55 comments
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The Mormon practice of proxy ordinance work has once again made its way into the news, this time involving someone no less prominent than our U.S. President’s late mother. In recent years, the baptism of deceased Holocaust survivors has been a festering sore spot for Jewish groups, which have complained about it repeatedly to both the Church leaders and Latter-day Saint political leaders such as Sen. Orrin Hatch (see, e.g., here, here, and here). Today, concerns over the proxy work performed by Church members were raised anew when a political blog reported that someone had apparently done the Temple work for Barack Obama’s late mother, Stanley Ann Dunham, in June of last year. A spokeswoman for the Church today said that the Church is investigating the matter as a “serious breach” of Church policy (given that Barack Obama is not known to have any immediate relatives who are Latter-day Saints and could have properly submitted Ms. Dunham’s name for proxy work). The Daily Herald further reported that Ms. Dunham’s name had been “submitted multiple times by at least three people in three states.”

While the Church has repeatedly sought to prevent these sorts of baptisms (except in cases where it is direct descendants requesting the temple work be performed), the difficult nature of that task makes it not all that surprising that these efforts have fallen short. As a result, the issue has cropped up again and again as the practice of posthumously performing ordinance work, especially for those with no connection to the Church, strikes many as presumptuous and even offensive. In my experience, however, when I’ve taken the time to explain to inquiring colleagues and friends that these proxy acts don’t unilaterally make these individuals members of our Church, but instead merely allow those who have had the work done on their behalf to make a choice to accept or reject those ordinances in the hereafter, it has typically seemed to allay their concerns. Since many faiths damn all those who haven’t been baptized and/or accepted Christ in this life to hell, our proxy work can seem mild in comparison. This has made me wonder whether, for many, the controversy surrounding the practice of posthumous ordinance work would be drastically toned down if they had a better understanding of what exactly was being done and what it signified. The trouble is that news stories and headlines often tend to mislead. For instance, the blog that broke the Obama story alleged that Church members had run into trouble before by “forcibly baptizing Jewish Holocaust victims – in other words, converting them to Mormonism.” To be fair, there were many news outlets today that did a pretty good job characterizing the situation, but even when they have, I wonder whether the nuance is lost on a lot of readers.

Clearly, the Church policy of submitting only the names of one’s family members for posthumous ordinance work is a wise one, but it’s a difficult one to enforce. Church leaders are reportedly making changes to the “massive genealogical database to make it more difficult for names of Holocaust victims to be entered for posthumous baptism by proxy.” It’s not clear, however, how these rumored changes would have prevented the baptism of someone like Ms. Dunham.

I’m curious what others make of this situation. How should the Church respond here? What changes can we make to prevent or limit these sorts of situations going forward? And how can we better explain a much-misunderstood practice?

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55 Responses to Obama’s Mom, Holocaust Survivors and Proxy Temple Work

  1. Marc Bohn on May 5, 2009 at 10:16 pm

    PBS, on its page dedicated to the The Mormons documentary, has some great on-topic interview responses from Daniel Peterson and Elder Marlin K. Jensen.

  2. Kent Larsen on May 5, 2009 at 10:45 pm

    I’d love to know the logic that members of the Church are using when they submit these names. The holocaust victims issue has been in the media so much that I am increasingly dubious that members of the Church who don’t know about it are making these submissions.

    I guess I don’t understand why people continue to do this when the Church’s position is fairly clear.

    In fact, I suspect that certain people do this even thought they know that the Church’s position is that they shouldn’t be submitted.

    Why do they do this?

  3. James on May 5, 2009 at 10:45 pm

    The loose data controls of the family history and temple work system is a contributor to this problem. Anyone can submit information to FamilySearch and the temple. They don’t have to have been a direct descendant of the individual or married to one. I have distant relatives that I’ve never met messing with information about my deceased mother in FamilySearch that I have to go in and clean up every few months. This kind of thing won’t stop until there are some kind of relationship identification and control on who can submit information and ordinance requests.

  4. queuno on May 5, 2009 at 11:02 pm

    LDS websites are beefing up identify verification, to the point that there’s now a framework for a single sign-on for multiple sites.

    I think this is a problem whose solution is already being worked, but “not there yet”. (Forcing all submissions through the new familysearch, linked with your LDS ID.)

    And honestly? Anyone knowingly engaging in this behavior should have their recommend pulled for 6 months.

  5. Left Field on May 5, 2009 at 11:47 pm

    People are usually fairly reasonable in face-to-face conversations, but on the internet, it seems very difficult to persuade people to accept accurate information about what proxy baptism is. Whenever the subject comes up in a general discussion group, people immediately turn to Making Stuff Up About Mormons. This game typically escalates, with people making up more and more outrageous Stuff.

    Some prime examples of this are available at the links provided in the posts above. Once somebody complains that Mormons are using proxy baptism to inflate membership numbers, it becomes accepted fact (’cause, y’know, now it’s on the internet), and there’s no stopping everyone else from piling on about how outrageous it is. Pointing out that recipients of proxy baptisms are not regarded as Mormons, and are certainly not included in membership statistics (otherwise we’d claim several hundred million more members than we do) is of no avail. It’s more fun to pile on with inaccurate information than to acquire an informed opinion on the matter.

  6. Ardis E. Parshall on May 5, 2009 at 11:51 pm

    A minor correction to some statements here: Church policy doesn’t limit members doing temple work to their DIRECT ancestors. You can do the work not only for your great-great-grandmother, but also for her brothers and sisters. And their spouses and children. And the parents of their spouses. And the siblings of her husband. And their spouses and children. And the parents of their spouses. And so on, as long as there is an identifiable family link.

    Most people doing family history generally don’t bother to go much beyond the siblings of their direct ancestors. If someone does go further because they are drawn to a particular family, or because the information is easily available, they’re probably submitting names for the right reason — in the genuine spirit of temple work, and with the purpose of joining families.

    That’s quite a different thing from submitting isolated, unrelated “celebrity” names. When I’ve heard of acquaintances doing that, it usually comes out through a boast that “I was baptized for so-and-so!” That’s wrong.

    I’m one who does generally try to identify everyone who was important to the people who are important to me — a more extended family group than most members bother to do. In a few cases when I have wanted to do work for someone I’ve run across through other research, I have jumped through hoops to identify a family relationship between that person and someone already in my extended family tree. The relationships get pretty far out there sometimes, but I can identify the precise trail between that person and me, and I do the work for his whole immediate family. To the best of my understanding, that falls within Church guidelines.

    In the case of work for the thousands of Swiss people I have written about here on T&S, I traced the great-grandson of the niece of the man whose papers took me to that project, and got his permission to submit the work on behalf of the family. That also falls within Church guidelines.

    But submitting a celebrity just to have done so? Wrong, wrong, wrong.

  7. California Sun on May 6, 2009 at 12:16 am

    Wilford Woodruff set a dandy of precendence when he was baptized for the founding fathers of the nation and many other prominent men of history, very few of which (if any) was he related to by blood.

    Since then I think many LDS take pride in assisting in the temple work of any who have played an important role in the establishing of America in prophetic fulfillment of the promises made in the Book of Mormon.

    Many of these people are distant cousins of their ninth great grand uncle’s sister-in-law twice removed from some other line of ancestry.

  8. Richard on May 6, 2009 at 6:25 am

    Can someone tell me how the Church says the policy is that names submitted to the Temple should be from those related to the submitter, yet over the years they have conducted “name extractions” from old records and then did temple work for these individuals?

  9. Marc Bohn on May 6, 2009 at 7:05 am

    Readers of this thread should definitely check out Ardis’s latest post

  10. Ardis E. Parshall on May 6, 2009 at 8:11 am

    Richard, besides the fact that policies change over time, we need to consider why there are policies in the first place: The “do your own family” rule may or may not have grown out of complaints like the one under discussion.

    Since that rule predates most such complaints, though, I suspect it was for another reason that has been stressed continuously: People who focus on celebrities (famous people from history, their favorite 1918 baseball team, relatives of presidents) are generally neglecting to research and do proxy ordinances for their own families, which is the primary responsibility for each of us.

    That doesn’t apply to the church itself — the extraction program *aided* church members in carrying out their primary responsibility.

  11. Seth R. on May 6, 2009 at 8:34 am

    I’m not generally all that interested in apologizing about this.

    Proxy baptism doesn’t make you a Mormon. All it does is offer the opportunity. If the living descendants don’t like it, tough beans.

    No one made them queen of the dead. If grandma wants to sign up with the Restored Gospel in the hereafter, that’s her own damn business. It’s not the place of her descendants to decide what she can and cannot do.

    That said, I find the idea of deliberated seeking out famous names to be baptized for distasteful and not in keeping with the sacred nature of the temple. The temple is not a place for shallow Mormons to pretend their in a tacky tourist gift shop hunting for souvenirs.

    “Hey! I got an Elvis baptism!”
    “Wow! I got a Napoleon!”
    “Guess what? I got Barak Obama’s mom!”

    Tacky, shallow, sacrilegious, self-serving, and just plain stupid.

    The LDS Church is correct to discourage such “collectors-edition baptisms.” But the primary reason is to maintain the sacred character of this part of our worship. The misguided concerns of the person’s descendants are only a minor side-show.

  12. Matt W. on May 6, 2009 at 8:53 am

    I think it’s great that some member of the Church somewhere wanted to show support to President Obama by having the work done for his mother. Should permission have been asked, sure, but I don’t really see this as that big a deal, and If someone wants to express support for the president in this way, why worry about it?

  13. Steve Hardy on May 6, 2009 at 9:02 am

    The church could take care of the vast amount of such problems by limiting temple-work only to family-file names. When submitting a name, a patron could vouch that they have a legitimate connection to any name, however tenuous.

    I know that this might severely restrict the names being submitted, but I can’t think of any other solution that would work.

    As long as we have thousands of members submitting names from hugh data-bases which they have no personal connection with, then we will have possibly inappropriate names submitted, either accidently or with the purpose of “bragging” about getting someone’s work done. (Sort of like our Founding Fathers) There is simply no-way to check the thousands of names that come up.

    The fact that the church “calls” a large number of people to do this, with the usual high turn-over rate results in the situation that you have many under-trained people, who may have no actual interest in this particular temple work submitting names.

    This solution would raise a large number of other issues and problems.

  14. John Mansfield on May 6, 2009 at 9:20 am

    Ardis, you wrote that you have sought out a family relationship for the sake of performing the work for dead you have met through your research work. It sounds like your motivations to find family relationships with those people is similiar to those of some who feel a yearning to do the work for a historical figure, though they usually don’t do the hard work of establishing a family tie to the dead. In the case of those murdered in the Holocaust, I can see how someone could have looked at those poor people, many with entire families destroyed and no living relatives who could ever do the temple work even if they wanted to, and decided to do something important for them.

  15. John Mansfield on May 6, 2009 at 9:24 am

    I haven’t read any word from Pres. Obama’s about this matter, so who are these people who are vicariously complaining about his mother’s temple baptism on behalf of him and his sister?

  16. Jeremy on May 6, 2009 at 10:26 am

    I had to share two somewhat humorous comments I saw in the thread following a political blog post on this subject (I won’t link because many of the comments were quite offensive):

    “I’m still trying to figure why anybody would give a [beeping beep] if the Mormons fill out paperwork about them.”

    and

    “Someone should baptize Brigham Young’s mama into the Blue Oyster Cult.”

  17. john willis on May 6, 2009 at 10:31 am

    In connection with post #15 Douglas Kmeic a noted law professor , former Romney supporter and then an Obama supporter tells an interesting story about a meeting Obama had with evangelical leaders last June. Franklin Graham (Billy Graham’s son) besides asking a number of foolish questions about Obama being a Muslim asked him about Jesus Christ being the only way to salvation. Obama affirmed that he had accepted Christ as his personal savior, to use the magic words of the evangelicals. He declined to say that Jesus was the only way to salvation for everyone. He gave as an example his mother who he felt was one of the most christlike people he had ever known, but never was babtized or became a Christian. Obama had problems (as I do ) with the concept that all those who do not accept Jesus as their personal savior in this life are doomed to hell for eternity.
    I am glad that it is the Lord ,not me or Franklin Graham who will have the final say over where Obama’s mother ends up in the next life. I have faith that she will be rewarded for the good things and kind of person she was on earth. The posthuous Temple ordinances done for her are only one part (but an essential part) of the proces of her ultimate salvation and exaltation.

  18. Eric Goodemote on May 6, 2009 at 10:49 am

    As a non-Mormon, I personally wouldn’t be bothered by someone baptizing my deceased family members. I would see it as, at most, a thoughtful gesture, and at worst, a ritual with no effect. I had an argument about this with someone (an atheist) on an atheist forum once. He said that for Mormons to baptize his relatives was a violation of his moral rights. Given that a) he believes the ritual doesn’t do anything, b) his ancestors do not, on his own account, exist in an afterlife, c) the ritual would not involve him in any way and he likely would never even know it happened, and d) even on its own account, the ritual wouldn’t force his ancestors to do anything, I found his strenuous and emotional objection to the ritual quite odd. He even went so far as to say that for people to pray for him, even if he didn’t even know it was happening, was a violation of his moral rights. It seems like the upshot of this is that he has a moral right to dictate to others what they can think and say about him and his family in private.

    There are some circumstances where I think the objections might make more sense, such as from families of Holocaust survivors. There are two issues that aren’t present for the atheist, such as a) cultural appropriation, or the appearance thereof, and b) aspects of Jewish theology which would vociferously object to any participation whatsoever by a Jew in what Jews believe to be a pagan ritual. Reasonable people, I think, can disagree about whether Jewish complaints in this regard are justified – I personally am unsure, but I think they definitely have a stronger case than the atheist.

  19. Rob Perkins on May 6, 2009 at 11:04 am

    I was offended enough to write almost 500 words on my own blog.

    The people who did this miss the point of family history work in the Mormon context. And because they miss the point and fail to listen, they’ve created a public relations problem for the Church.

  20. Jonathan Green on May 6, 2009 at 12:14 pm

    Rob, are you sure that creating a PR problem for the church was not the original intent? There are dopey people who do stupid things, and there are people who want the church to look bad, and there are some members of the church willing to help them.

  21. Rob Perkins on May 6, 2009 at 12:45 pm

    The ordinances are reported to have been done at Provo, which has the highest per capita concentration of Church members.

    It seemed to me that a well-meaning person without a lot of understanding, perhaps operating on cultural imperatives rather than explicit instructions from the Church, took it upon themselves to save the President’s mother.

    I suppose, upon reflection, that the chances of an antagonistic member on his way out of fellowship, but still with a Temple recommend, are as likely as a callow but well-meaning proxy. I think there are more of the latter with valid recommends than the former.

    Either way, the topic is getting discussed again. If you’re of a mind that no publicity is bad publicity, maybe the hand of God is in it.

  22. Bridget Jack Meyers on May 6, 2009 at 1:12 pm

    I wrote about this as well. I think non-members who get upset about this need to chill the hell out.

    I can understand the argument that Mormons shouldn’t be doing celebrity baptisms for the dead just so that they can feel cool, that they should only be done out of desire to help the deceased move on in the next life, but that’s something for Mormons to police. As a non-member it makes no difference to me whether you do it out of love or out of pride. It’s all “whatever” to me.

  23. Steve Hardy on May 6, 2009 at 1:59 pm

    Try putting the shoe on the other foot.

    Imagine that someone from a relatively large religion, known for aggesively seeking converts was doing proxy work in the name of some of our distinguished ancesteros such as:

    Members of the Martin Hancock Company
    Previous General Authorities
    The mother of President Monson
    President Hinkley, now that a year has passed since his death.

    Now image that you don’t really understand what the proxy work was really about. Could you imagine that some people might… just might.. be bothered by this? I am not asking whether you personally would be bothered, because you may not be. But can you imagine that some of those Martin Company descendants, and some of President Hinkley’s family might… just might… be offended by the thought that someone thought and was teaching that these Mormon ancestors were rejoicing in the afterlife, having found a better religion, and that they had turned their backs on their life’s works?

    I don’t think that I would be bothered myself, but I can imagine that some people would be bothered. I don’t think that people should “chill out” if their ancestors are baptised/endowed/sealed in a proxy ceremony. I do think that our church needs to be more sensitive to the idea that being baptised is a great symbolic commitment to Christ and that some non-christians and other christians could be offended at what we are doing.

  24. John Mansfield on May 6, 2009 at 3:08 pm

    There is nothing a bit unusual about religions making claims about the fate of those who have died. If some choose to trumpet that Mormon pioneers are suffering the flames of hell because of their deluded trust in lying prophets, well, yes, that can be irritating, depending on how effectively it’s done and how many people repeat it. I can see how some might be annoyed or offended by Mormon claims, and this matters enough that the Church has agreed to withhold temple ordinances to in the case of Holocaust victims, for example.

    That said, 95% of those complaining about the Ann Dunham case are only doing so because this is the latest handy club for beating the Church. They don’t care about the late Ms. Dunham nor about our doctrine regarding the dead. They just don’t like Mormons.

  25. Mark B. on May 6, 2009 at 3:10 pm

    Who on earth was Martin Hancock?

    And, did his company sell insurance?

  26. Bridget Jack Meyers on May 6, 2009 at 3:39 pm

    I don’t see how believing someone from another faith has accepted Mormonism in the next life is more offensive than believing they’re in some sort of spiritual holding place being taught the gospel and waiting for someone to do that work. Most religions believe unattractive things about the fate of practitioners from other religions. Mormonism is just odd because it calls for its followers in the here and now to take action based on those beliefs, making for a more visible target.

    I was talking with some Mormons once when the subject of C.S. Lewis came up, and it was mentioned that C.S. Lewis wasn’t Mormon. One of the LDS folks got kind of smug and said, “He is now.” He explained that Lewis had been baptized by proxy and sealed to Joy Gresham.

    I don’t know if that’s true or not, but if it is, the notion of proxy work being done on C.S. Lewis doesn’t bother me in the least. This person’s “Ha-ha, one of your favorite Christian thinkers is Mormon now” attitude, on the other hand… very annoying. And exactly what Mormons should avoid.

  27. Amy on May 6, 2009 at 3:52 pm

    The Martin Hancock Company! That’s awesome.

    Seriously, #23, I could care less. And I think the people you mentioned in your list, especially poor Martin Hancock, could care less as well.

    How many people have had things done without your say, really? How many people as babies were baptized in a certain religion obviously without the baby’s permission? When my mother was dealing with breast cancer many other faiths put her on prayer rolls without her knowledge (probably because they figured if she died she’d be roasting in Mormon hell). I thought it was lovely.

    It’s just the way it is. You either believe that it means something or you don’t.

  28. Starfoxy on May 6, 2009 at 4:52 pm

    I don’t get it either. There’s two options, we’re right about this, or we’re wrong.

    If we’re wrong then we’re nothing more than a bunch of religious nut-jobs saying higgeldy piggeldy over deceased people’s names- which admittedly could be seen as creepy and weird. But all any of that would mean is that we’re creepy and weird.

    If we’re right, great! more people get to go to heaven. Hooray!

    At the very least it is motivated by some sort of altruism. Even the “Ha-ha, one of your favorite Christian thinkers is Mormon now” attitude that Jack mentioned is better than smugly saying “Ha-ha one of your [famous people] is rotting in hell!”

  29. jjohnsen on May 6, 2009 at 5:30 pm

    “I haven’t read any word from Pres. Obama’s about this matter, so who are these people who are vicariously complaining about his mother’s temple baptism on behalf of him and his sister?”

    If you read the original post you’ll see the Church isn’t happy about it. Isn’t that good enough?

  30. Ardis E. Parshall on May 6, 2009 at 5:35 pm

    You mean like when Brigham Young reportedly said “Zachary Taylor is dead and in hell, and I am glad of it”? {grin} (I believe he did say ZT was in hell, but I question the last clause because it’s exactly what you would expect the unreliable, hatemongering Judge Perry Brocchus, the originator of the tale, to have inserted into his report to make his case against BY sound even worse.)

    If I had learned that my very traditional Irish Catholic aunt had arranged for a mourning novena to be said for my very traditional LDS father upon his death, I would have been brought to tears of gratitude by knowing that he mattered that much to her. That I don’t believe such ritual prayers would affect the state of his soul in the slightest matters not in the slightest. It’s really hard for me to see anything but deliberate misunderstanding and opportunistic drum banging in the handwringing going on in some quarters.

    And I think that Helen Radkey, the woman behind all these teapot tempests, has a miserable little soul. We should pray for her. I’m sure she would appreciate it. Not.

  31. Ardis E. Parshall on May 6, 2009 at 5:37 pm

    jjohnsen, the Church isn’t happy because it’s a violation of policy (implemented for good reason) not to do temple work for non-relatives, and not to do temple work for people born within the last 95 years without seeking permission from their closest kin, and probably because now they have to deal with more unnecessary negative press.

    The Church is hardly upset by the notion of proxy baptism, I think.

  32. John Mansfield on May 6, 2009 at 5:39 pm

    I think the Church has obvious standing to care about how temple work is done, but more to your point, yes, the Church is not indifferent to how the world at large feels about vicarious work for the dead.

  33. Steve on May 6, 2009 at 7:31 pm

    The way to stop this crap is to subject anyone who submits such names to immediate church discipline. It wouldn’t hurt if the media found out either. A few people being excommunicated or disfellowshipped would stop this pretty quick.

    These folks do enormous damage to the church and its reputation, particularly when agreements have been made, such as with Holocaust victims.

    It is a mistake to minimize this . . The offenders should be harshly punished.

  34. Raymond Takashi Swenson on May 6, 2009 at 8:18 pm

    There are a lot of different views about the status of those who died without “accepting Christ” in mortal life. Besides those (generally identified as Calvinists) who say “They are burning in hell”, there are a range of other opinions among Christians of all denominations. A view favored by many Catholics is that, at the point of death, we all get to meet Christ and accept or reject Him (which sort of correlates to the experience of many who have had near death experiences). Another view, held by many mainline Christians, is that our response to the “general revelation” about God, in nature and our own moral sense (the basis of “Natural Law theology” and similar to our concept of the Light of Christ) allows us to be judged fairly even if we never heard about Jesus. Another view is that there is an opportunity for people to be evangelized between death and the Resurrection! And it is based on passages in the First Epistle of Peter!

    So there are a LOT of Christian theologians of all stripes who would, if pressed, would be willing to say “Even though President Obama’s mother was never a Christian in mortal life, it is very possible that she has become a Christian now, and received salvation.” The fact that this was accomplished by God and the individual, without participation by anyone on earth, doesn’t affect the outcome, which is the assertion that Obama’s Momma (sorry, couldn’t resist) is at least potentially a Christian (meeting the definition of Catholic and many Protestant churches), without getting any permission from President Obama or any relative.

    So, apart from Church policy about avoiding offending someone with living family members, our belief that she can become a saved Christian after death, without any assent on the part of her living relatives, is a belief we have in common with theologians from the majority of Christian denominations.

    The alternative, to damn her to hell because of her lack of christian beliefs during mortality, despite her good works and good will, is viewed by those who are not committed Calvinists as the Soteriological Problem of Evil that places in question the justice of God’s judgment and the scope of His love for mankind.

    A way to present this response would be to ask a critic, “Would you prefer that she be burning in hell, as some Calvinists insist, or that it at least be possible that she can be accepted into a heavenly condition, despite her lack of Christian beliefs?” Most people who believe in God and an afterlife will say they prefer the latter. “Well, we agree with you. We think she has an opportunity to become a follower of Christ even after her death. Baptism of someone in her name is simply a way to show our hope that she gets the benefit of that opportunity. amnd whether we do it or not is not determinative of her status in heaven.” Since after all, a lot of work is going to happen in the Millenium.

  35. Scott B. on May 6, 2009 at 11:10 pm

    Holy crap, RTS.

  36. Andrew on May 7, 2009 at 4:14 am

    My understanding of what the Church is doing w.r.t. name verification is that eventually you will be “linked” to your ancestors in the database. This might happen through various means, but I believe the idea is to ensure that the people you enter information for can reasonably be linked to your family tree.

    Record extraction isn’t supposed to (if I understand the current program correctly) lead to temple submission for that particular name. I think it’s purpose is just to digitize the record, then it’s up to the individual’s family to find them and perform the ordinance work. It probably worked differently in the past, but that’s how I believe it works now. Hopefully, these two things will help cut down on the number of spurious submissions.

  37. Alex Valencic on May 7, 2009 at 10:59 am

    So I’ve seen a couple of topics arise from this one:

    First: should members of the Church be submitting names for Temple work for individuals to whom they have no familial relationship? The Church has answered this repeatedly: No, no, and no! Only family members should be submitted for Temple files. (Ideally, members will do work for their own family members, but as there are some members who have identified thousands of deceased ancestors, they submit the names and let any worthy member anywhere do the work for them.)

    Second: What about Record Extraction work? As a person who has worked with this program in numerous ways, I can vouch for what Andrew (#36) suggested. Record extraction consists of reading through ship manifests, birth and death records, immigration records, prison records, etc. and converting the information into a digital format, thus making it easier for anyone with access to the Internet to do family history research. And since the Church’s genealogical index is linked to a large number of genealogical resources, the information isn’t just for Mormons.

    As far as my own thoughts on the subject, members of the LDS Church need to worry about themselves and their own families, and wait for the Millenium to get the rest of the work done.

  38. CS Eric on May 7, 2009 at 12:44 pm

    This doesn’t just happen to “famous” people. A couple of years ago, for grins I checked on my grandfather’s status. He had been sealed to my grandmother several different times, at several different temples. I appreciate the thought, but all that work was unnecessary, since they were sealed when they originally got married in the Salt Lake temple the first time.

  39. Vader on May 7, 2009 at 2:35 pm

    My family have been members in the Church for enough generations that I doubt I have a single ancestor, for whom credible records of any kind exist, who has not had his or her work done four or five times.

    This is a bit of a frustration when I hear a talk or lesson encouraging me to seek out my own ancestors and do the work for them.

    At present, my friends in the Church are happy to have me do ordinances for their ancestors. Perhaps this will tide me over to the Millenium.

  40. Psam Psanchez on May 7, 2009 at 9:12 pm

    In regards to comment #26:

    I can more than see a Mormon getting smug about C. S. Lewis’s vicarious baptism. In fact I know a few who’d probably sustain him as the prophet if he were around, so inordinately popular is he among Mormons.

  41. JimD on May 7, 2009 at 10:36 pm

    And I think that Helen Radkey, the woman behind all these teapot tempests, has a miserable little soul. We should pray for her. I’m sure she would appreciate it. Not.

    Ardis, do you think you can come up with a genealogical connection–however tenuous–between myself and Ms. Radkey?

  42. mary on May 8, 2009 at 12:02 am

    I’m a convert. Thank goodness I didn’t have to find the Church in the hereafter only to have some family member decide whether I could be LDS or not. Political correctness shouldn’t apply to the Gospel. If other faiths were as loving as ours, they would baptize all the dead too.

  43. Kent on May 8, 2009 at 9:12 am

    I think comparing the Church’s stance on proxy ordinances for Holocaust victims to those performed for other non-family-line proxy ordinance recipients needs to take into account the tremendous residual pain and suffering of their modern-day descendants. As a group, Holocaust victims represent the standard for the results of the atrocities of man (in modern times) and the Church is wise to acquiesce to requests to avoid proxy work on behalf of this group. Yet, I’m not certain as to the exact reasoning behind the general policy to do proxy work only for family-line related individuals, as it is possible that one of the reasons (as stated previously by someone here) could be to help people focus on their own lines and not search out famous names for whatever reason. It is likely that with improved systems there will be fewer duplications and many of the famous names will already have had work done for them and this will become less of a “temptation” for some well-meaning folks. To me the greater error is in the “wasted” (as in could have been used on behalf of another person) time that results from duplicated submissions of the famous and not-so-famous alike, more than that of submitting a non-family-line related name. I would be in favor of a moratorium of 50-100 years (sorry all those folks in the spirit world who would have to wait longer) post death for non-family-line-related submissions so as to diminish the impact on their immediate family members who are still living. Further, while I recognize that some discomfort or even extreme displeasure might arise in descendants whose ancestors’ proxy work has been performed without their knowledge and/or permission, said reactions in MOST cases shouldn’t take priority over the need to do the work for all mankind, regardless of who submitted the names. I believe that it is far more common that descendants are upset because of proxy work being done for their ancestors by a distant relative than by non-relatives, however such cases don’t come to our attention very often as the ancestors aren’t “famous.”

  44. Ardis E. Parshall on May 8, 2009 at 9:44 am

    The church already has a moratorium of sorts, of 95 years, even for family members if you are not the closest kin unless you get permission from that next of kin. For that reason, I haven’t done the work for my own uncles, because they have widows and children who don’t understand. It’s all on the honor system, though, and there’s where the problems come in.

    Under the old TempleReady system (I don’t know what New Family Search does, yet), the computer would not allow names to be cleared for persons born in Muslim countries. You had to write for permission to clear such a name, giving the relevant reason (e.g., that the person was a Greek Christian who had been born on an island then part of Greece but now belonging to Turkey). I don’t know how the system could be set to prevent the clearing of Holocaust victims’ names, since neither surnames nor death dates/places nor any other genealogical fact is exclusive to such persons. You can hardwire the system to reject any further attempts to seal Adolph Hitler to Eva Braun, but you can’t really do that for Holocaust victims without compiling a complete list of victims — which is itself part of the original complaint. Any ideas on how to automate such safeguards?

  45. Greg on May 9, 2009 at 1:37 pm

    Perhaps we should ask ourselves; “what is the philosophical foundation to the doctrine of baptisms for the dead?”

    It is apparently based on the belief, first that only baptized Christians will be saved, and secondly, that only baptized Mormons, as a subset of Christians, will be saved. This doctrine rests on the fundamental Mormon belief that the Mormon Church is the only true path to eternal salvation and that all others are destined to Hell, or at best, a lesser status than Eternal Salvation. (Of course, this all assumes that there is an afterlife or a status of “saved” beings in any afterlife.) Do away with the only-true-church belief and you lessen the importance of baptism, either here or in an afterlife.

    It’s the belief, not the ritual that counts. D&C 137:7-9 states that those, having no knowledge of the restored gospel but who would have received it on earth had it been presented to them, shall be heirs of the celestial kingdom. The focus is on belief in the heart, not on the ritual of baptism. Baptism is merely a ritual or outward demonstration of what is in the heart. It represents a rebirth into a new life. Other scripture establishes that the teaching of the gospel continues in the afterlife. If that is true and if what is in your heart is what really counts, what is the big deal to baptize for the dead? There must be some type of ritual of rebirth that can be performed in the afterlife for those who accept the restored gospel. Perhaps there is “spirit water” or some other “spirit liquid” there that would serve the purpose? I realize the baptism for the dead is a “fundamental” doctrine, but perhaps it should be reconsidered and perhaps done away with. Allowing blacks to hold the priesthood did wonders for the Church’s image and solved the Brazil problem. No more baptisms for the dead would work wonders too.

  46. Ardis E. Parshall on May 9, 2009 at 6:08 pm

    I can’t let that last comment stand as the last one on this thread, although there aren’t enough pixels in the known universe to go point by point and note the doctrinal misunderstandings of such a proposal.

    I can think of a great many comments that should be reconsidered and perhaps done away with. A refresher course in the Gospel Essentials class would work wonders, too.

  47. Matt W. on May 9, 2009 at 8:37 pm

    Ardis RE the 95 years, I have never heard this rule. I have sent about 7000 names through the temple in the last 9 years, and I have heard ask the next of kin, but never have heard the 95 years part. Where did you get that from?

  48. Ardis E. Parshall on May 9, 2009 at 9:23 pm

    Matt, see A Member’s Guide to Temple and Family History Work at lds.org. One bullet point under “General Guidelines” is:

    If the person was born within the last ninety-five years, obtain permission for the ordinances from the person’s closest living relative. This relative often wishes to receive the ordinances in behalf of the deceased or designate someone to receive them. In some instances, the relative may wish to postpone the performance of the ordinances. Also, be aware that acting in conflict with the wishes of the closest living relative can result in bad feelings toward you and the Church.

  49. Left Field on May 9, 2009 at 9:59 pm

    The philosophical foundation for baptism for the dead has nothing at all to do with what denomination you have to belong to to be saved. It does have to do with who is authorized to administer baptism. In Mormon belief, not everyone baptized by proper authority is a Mormon and not everyone who is saved is a Mormon.

    Even if a deceased person accepts a proxy baptism, it doesn’t make them a Mormon. It just makes them someone who has received a valid (in the eyes of Mormonism) Christian baptism. I somehow suspect that the whole concept of “denominations” is irrelevant in the hereafter.

  50. Greg on May 10, 2009 at 12:17 am

    Hi Ardis: Thank you for your reply at #46. I actually stated only three doctrinal points in my comment.

    The first: That a Mormon baptism or baptism for the dead is a precondition to being “saved” (without going into the details of the various kingdoms of heaven).

    The second: That the Mormon Church is the only true Church.

    and the third: The reference to DC 137:7-9.

    Unless I slept through my Gospel Doctrine classes, I think all three statements are correct statements of church doctrine.

    The rest of my comment can be summed up as simply asking questions, or drawing conclusions, or offering suggestions. I realize that these “musings” are not based on any doctrine, but merely presented as food for thought.

    BTW, I believe my reference to allowing blacks to hold the priesthood is accurate as well, although not technically a doctrinal comment.

    As for Left Field’s comment at #49; now that’s thinking outside the box. If he’s right (and from a Mormon perspective he is absolutely wrong) it wouldn’t matter what church you belonged to as long as you got baptized.

  51. Ardis E. Parshall on May 10, 2009 at 3:00 am

    I realize that these “musings” are not based on any doctrine

    Common ground!

  52. Left Field on May 10, 2009 at 6:42 am

    Actually Greg, from a Mormon perspective, I’m absolutely right. From a Mormon perspective it doesn’t matter what church you belonged to as long as you receive the gospel and are baptized by authority (or die before the age of accountability). Otherwise baptism for the dead would be pointless. See Doctrine and Covenants 137:5-6 and 138:38-49 for a list of specific people who are saved, including Adam, Eve, Abel, Seth, Noah, Shem, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, Isaiah, Ezekiel, Daniel, Elias, Malachi, the Nephite prophets, and Alvin Smith. Not a single one of these was ever a Mormon. (Now of course, you could *define* a Mormon as anyone who is saved and then observe that only Mormons are saved, but to do so would be a meaningless tautology, and would tell us nothing about who is saved.)

    Doctrine and Covenants 137:7-10 is quite explicit that membership in a denomination is not a requirement for salvation and that lots of non-Mormons will find themselves in the Celestial kingdom.

  53. Left Field on May 10, 2009 at 7:04 am

    I should add that 137:7-10 does not imply that authorized baptism is not required for those who lived to the age of accountability. The whole of section 128 indicates otherwise. See especially verses 5 and 18. Baptism for the dead doesn’t make anyone a Mormon. It provides an authorized and required ordinance for those non-Mormons referred to in 137:7-9. The whole idea of baptism for the dead and sections 127-128 and 137-138 is that required ordinances, the gospel, and salvation are available to non-Mormons.

  54. Jonathan Green on May 10, 2009 at 12:59 pm

    Ardis, I could loan you some spare pixels, if you’re up to the task, but you’ll have to borrow every remaining moment until the heat death of the universe from someone else.

  55. annegb on May 11, 2009 at 11:08 am

    I wonder if Obama has some distant Mormon relative who justified submitting his mother’s name. #6 is correct, I’ve submitted relative’s names. I submitted my husband’s stepmother. I felt fine about it, she was LDS and we were very close. I knew she wanted it. But her son was kind of disconcerted. He still loves me, but he’s not LDS and I don’t think he felt comfortable with it. But….as far as I was concerned, she was as much my mother as she was the rest of the family.