It occurred to me the other day when I read Givens’ beautiful description of why we perform ordinances for the dead that our response to some critics of the practice of posthumous baptism may be too defensive. In response to those who believe that baptism or some other ordinance or event is required to enter God’s Kingdom, shouldn’t we go on the offensive and ask them what they are doing about those who were never baptized?
Near as I can tell, hundreds of millions, if not billions, of humans have died without even having heard the gospel of any western religion. If your religion consigns them to hell, what are you doing about it?
Just looking at Christian religions, perhaps as many as 80% of Christians believe that baptism is necessary for salvation. Yet, despite this belief, the LDS Church is the only Christian religion that practices posthumous baptism. Given that the practice is even mentioned in the New Testament (1 Cor. 15:29), how is it possible that other Christian Churches have ignored this issue?
If you don’t think posthumous baptism is necessary, then aren’t you either saying that baptism isn’t necessary or that God is a respecter of persons? Or, do you simply not care what happens to those who haven’t heard of Christ and been baptized?
Now, lest my comments come across as too harsh, strident or divisive, I am NOT suggesting that other Christians don’t care about those who weren’t baptized. Nor am I suggesting that their theologies don’t account for this problem. Many, if not all, of other Christian faiths have accounted for this problem in their theology, suggesting that Christ’s atonement takes care of those who died without the opportunity of baptism or making some other accommodation for this issue. I’m not familiar with the details of their theology, so I can’t really address it. But I do know that theologians of other Christian faiths have addressed the question.
However, this theological question has been lost in the criticism of our practice somehow. Commentators like Andrew Sullivan (a Catholic, as I understand it) feel free to criticize our practice, but not address what should be done for those who weren’t baptized and therefore can’t enter the Kingdom of God. Sullivan is hardly alone. Many critics who belong to faiths that require baptism have also criticized our practice, and as far as I’ve seen, not one has addressed the theological problem or acknowledged that their own religion also faces it.
As I wrote recently, I do think Church policy should be followed and that our best policy is to respect the concerns of Jews in the case of holocaust victims. There may be other groups that also deserve this respect. But that is really beside the point. I’m suggesting that in the public debate over our practice we’ve been giving critics a free pass. We should be saying to them:
OK, if posthumous baptism is so offensive, then, under your theology, what should be done for those who haven’t been baptized or who didn’t know the truth?