Jewish groups are upset at the thought of the Church baptising Holocaust victims. It seems that they are being egged on by one Helen Radkey. The Church had agreed that members are to do the work only for those in their line–or with the permission of their next-of-kin. Despite assertions that the Church has reneged on that agreement, the Church’s NewFamilySearch web site has software that would make such breaches extremely difficult. To add to this woe, the Vatican has expressed concern about the practise of baptism for the dead, and has issued instructions to end LDS access to their records.
Leaving the present difficulty for members of the Church to violate this agreement aside, I would like to comment on both the reasons for Jewish objections and what is actually being done by baptisms for the dead, and to perhaps reassure them of both our intent and the absence of negative effects of those baptisms.
From the links above, I gather that Jewish groups believe that our baptising for the dead is a backdoor way of erasing the Jewishness of Holocaust victims, and a sly way to eliminate Jewry by latter-day revisionism. I can understand this fear. I am painfully aware of the forced conversions and other denials of basic human rights by the Spanish Inquisition and other pogroms, culminating in the Holocaust that was Nazi Germany. I have had Jewish friends from childhood, and I certainly would not want the erasure of what makes them uniquely them.
Fortunately, baptism for the dead does NOT make them non-Jews, nor does this force them to deny their Jewishness. To the contrary, we believe that personal agency is sacrosanct [See D&C 101:78; Moses 4:3; 7:32]. Indeed, since we Latter-day Saints claim to be Israelites, far from a denial of their status of Israelites–the Most High’s chosen people [Deuteronomy 7:6], that baptism is a resounding confirmation of it.
Furthermore, the fact that we are baptising proxies for our kin who suffered through the Holocaust testifies–quite loudly–that even though they probably have never heard of the Book of Mormon or the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, let alone being members of the Church, the way they lived their lives–as Jews–makes them entirely worthy of the Kingdom of the Most High. In bureaucrat-speak, all that was left was the paperwork. As for the [Insert favourite epithet here.] that led Nazi Germany, as Wilford Woodruff put it about other persons who allowed the attempted genocide of another people, the Church will do their baptisms when “their cause is just.” That, I suspect, will come LONG after the Cubs win the World Series–in a four-game sweep.
Clearly, Jews are not dealing with the likes of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who wants to wipe Israel–and Jews–off the map, and denies that the Holocaust even happened. Rather, the LDS wish to remember the Jews as worthy people of the Most High, and not as vermin to be exterminated!
Radkey claims an ability to spot “Jewish names.” However, when asked to provide some, she demurred, demanding that WE find those names, and delete their work. This causes me to suspect that her goal is to frustrate our ability to do ANY of the Lord’s work, rather than to give proper respect for the Jews. Moreover, I suspect that her ability is, to put it kindly, overrated. I have an ancestor named Samuel Samuelson, and, since Samuel is a Prophet in the Tanakh (and he DID have children [See I Samuel 8:1]!), one might suppose that he might have been Jewish. Unfortunately, while my ancestors might have been Jewish at some time or another, when Samuel Samuelson died, he was a member of the Augsburg Lutheran Church, in Porter County, Indiana–and his children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren were Lutherans, as well. Further, I know of other members of the Church who converted from Judaism. These people would, no doubt, complain–quite loudly–if they were denied the ability to give their dearly departed all of the advantages of the Gospel that they possess.
Leaving all this aside, let us suppose, for a moment, that we’re wrong in our authority claims. What effect would our baptising a Jew, a Catholic, or any other dead person in any religion–or no religion at all? I would submit that if our truth claims are without foundation, the power of our ordinances would likewise be wholly without power or effect. Even if we were as evil as Decker and his ilk claim, anything we would do for the dead wouldn’t hurt them at all–because they wouldn’t do anything at all.
But what if we’re right–and our baptisms have saving effect–provided their beneficiaries accept them? Are we not doing the dead a favour by ensuring that they will be able to take their rightful place in Heaven with the Most High? Moreover, this ordinance belies any claim that we Latter-day Saints think we’re any better than people of any other religion, for it proclaims to all and sundry that the Jew, Catholic, or person of whatever faith is just as good, just as righteous, just as worthy of Heaven as the Latter-day Saint doing the work.
What, then, is the problem?