Why do Mormons baptize people after they're dead and how do they do it?

Your guide to posthumous baptism and how it's performed

New York Daily News/March 1, 2012

Why do Mormons baptize people after they're dead, and how do they do it?

The controversial Mormon practice of baptizing non-Mormons after death has been thrust into the spotlight in recent weeks, as reports emerged that Anne Frank and the parents of famed Nazi hunter Simon Wiesenthal had both been posthumously baptized.

Now Daniel Pearl, a journalist killed by terrorists in Pakistan shortly after 9/11, has joined their ranks, according to Helen Radkey, an excommunicated Mormon who still has access to Church records.

So what exactly is posthumous baptism, why do Mormons do it, and how does it work?

Here's a guide:

Why do Mormons baptize people after they're dead?

Mormons believe that everyone has to be baptized a Mormon in order to get into heaven. Posthumous baptisms are conducted primarily to allow Church members to give non-Mormon relatives a chance to get into heaven after death.

Mormons don't believe that they're forcing their religion onto the dead, since the soul of the deceased needs to consent to the baptism from beyond the grave in order to become Mormon. The way they see it, the service gives that person one last chance to convert, a chance that they're free to reject.

But over the past few decades, members of the Church have been caught baptizing non-relatives, including victims of the Holocaust, to give them a chance to get into heaven. That's where the Church agrees members of the fold have crossed the line.

How do they do it?

A Mormon priest baptizes a living person on behalf of the person who's dead. Two people in white robes conduct the ceremony, according to an explanation on the Mormon Church's website — one stands in for the deceased, and the other says a short prayer and immerses the first person in water.

The records of those baptisms are then filed in the Church's archives, though the Church says that their names are not recorded into a genealogical registry of everyone who has ever been Mormon. The Church claims they don't include the names of people who've been proxy baptized in that list, since they can't know if those peoples' souls accepted the invitation to be baptized.

What's the Mormon Church's position on it?

The Church says that proxy baptisms should only be performed on direct ancestors of church members, and their policy is not to accept the names of Holocaust victims for proxy baptism, following a number of agreements between the Mormon Church and Jewish leaders made in the 1990s.

Nonetheless, unwanted proxy baptisms of Jews and Holocaust survivors keep happening. The Church has said on its website that it's difficult to prevent, since "the temple baptism process depends on voluntary compliance by millions of Church members around the world."

Radkey said in an interview with MSNBC that she's consistently seen the names of Holocaust survivors on file over the past few decades.

"While no system is foolproof in preventing the handful of individuals who are determined to falsify submissions, we are committed to taking action against individual abusers by suspending the submitter's access privileges," the Church said in another statement on Feb. 21, shortly after news broke that Anne Frank had been proxy baptized at a temple in the Dominican Republic. "We will also consider whether other Church disciplinary action should be taken."

Who have Mormons posthumously baptized?

Daniel Pearl, Anne Frank, and Simon Wiesenthal's parents are only the latest in a long line of people to be posthumously baptized by Mormons.

An estimated 380,000 Holocaust survivors were posthumously baptized in the 1990s, according to a New York Times report.

Though the problem came to light after this incident, Jews haven't been the only targets of posthumous baptisms. The Church admitted that Barack Obama's mother was posthumously baptized in 2008.

According to Radkey, Mormons have also vicariously baptized Joan of Arc, Charlie Chaplin, Marilyn Monroe, Mahatma Gandhi, and Adolf Hitler.

Radkey also said that she discovered Holocaust survivor and Nobel Laureate Elie Wiesel's name in the database. A spokesman for the Mormon Church told the Huffington Post that Wiesel's name hadn't actually been submitted for baptism, and that his name was entered into the genealogy database in error.


In general, all other Christian faiths frown on baptism after death, including if a baby dies suddenly before it has a chance to be baptized. In those cases, it's left to God to judge whether the baby can go to heaven. "God's care will cover it — that's the overall teaching." Martin Marty, Professor Emeritus at the University of Chicago's Divinity School, told the Daily News.

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