Weeds

I have to say that I don’t really “get” non-member indignation over the LDS practice of baptism for the dead, brought into the spotlight recently due to the fact that someone in the church had Barack Obama’s late mother baptized posthumously last summer.

When I married a Mormon, I gave some serious consideration to whether or not I should tell my LDS relatives that it’s okay to do ordinance work for me when I die. If the claims of my own faith are true, baptism and other ordinances for the dead are a colossal waste of time. Perhaps it can have some level of personal value to the people who participate in it as they come away from it with a sense of having served God and helped other people, but even that could be a bad thing. They think they’re serving God and helping other people when they’re not. Should I really encourage that level of self-delusion?

I was born in Arkansas in 1982 to parents who can best be described as “bad Protestant,” but my mother’s father was a bit more devout. He wanted to have me baptized as an infant into the Nazarene church, so it was done, and he died not long afterward in 1984 due to complications from diabetes. I never knew him. As I’ve grown into an adult and carved my own path on faith and theology, I’ve come to reject paedobaptism in favor of believer’s baptism. I was baptized by immersion by my own choice when I was 12, and I don’t believe infant baptism is the proper way to perform the ordinance. Should I be indignant at my dead grandfather that he had that done to me when I was too young to consent?

Maybe I should be, but I’m not. I understand what my grandfather meant by it. It was love.

It’s springtime right now, and sometimes when we’re outdoors, my two year-old daughter runs around picking dandelions and brings them to me. She thinks they’re beautiful flowers, so she brings them to her favorite person in the world as a gift. She doesn’t understand that they’re weeds. Should I encourage that level of self-delusion? Shouldn’t I be saying, “Sweetie, don’t be stupid. Mommy doesn’t want these, they’re weeds.”

Well, I don’t. I think every dandelion she gives me is precious.

I told my LDS relatives they could go ahead and do ordinance work for me when I die. I think it’s useless, and I would rather they weren’t doing it, but thankfully for them, I worship a God who sees love where everyone else sees weeds.

One last thing. What about the notion that Mormons are making dead people of other faiths into Mormons? Is it okay for people of other faiths to be indignant about that?

That is one of the stupidest lines of reasoning I have ever heard in my life. If you don’t believe the ordinance has any power (and you don’t or you would be Mormon), what’s the problem? Your relatives aren’t actually becoming LDS. Let the Mormons have their weeds.

UPDATE: Welcome T&S readers!

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The dandelions analogy was borrowed heavily from the 1998 song “Dandelions” by Five Iron Frenzy. You can listen to it on YouTube here and read the lyrics here.


Comments

Weeds — 25 Comments

  1. Heh. I was more offended than you were! (see my blog)

    Seriously, Church members are supposed to chase their own family’s info. Brag-proxies are not the point.

  2. Yeah, see my comment at T&S, Rob.

    I can agree with the argument that Mormons shouldn’t go whoring for celebrity baptisms just to feel cool, but that’s something for Mormons to sort out. I don’t feel it’s my place to call Mormons to repentance on that.

  3. I also don’t see what the fuss is about. I mean, especially as a cranky ex-Mormon, I think that since the proxy ordinances are meaningless except as a Mormon religious practice, and even if Mormonism is true, they are meaningless unless affirmatively accepted by the dead person, it all adds up to a kind of… meh? Who cares? Baptisms for the dead don’t make dead people Mormon, even if Mormonism is true.

    And if Mormonism is false and their proxy ceremonies actually have some sort of effect, in other words unilaterally screwing up another person’s afterlife, well that seems ridiculous.

  4. Ah; you have fully developed brain, I see. Good on ya.

    But dig up some apologetics for me, if you want: If it’s useless, what’s it doing in first Corinthians?

  5. There’s a rabbit hole I sure don’t want to go down on this thread. There’s an article by Joel R. White which was published in the Journal of Biblical Literature (116/3) in 1997, p. 487-499, “‘Baptized on Account of the Dead’: The Meaning of 1 Corinthians 15:29 in Its Context.” White argues that Paul’s initial use of “the dead” is a symbolic reference to himself and the other apostles based on other passages from Paul (1 Cor. 4:9, 1 Cor. 15:31, 2 Cor. 2:14-16), and the second use is a contrast to the actual dead. The adverb ὅλως (“at all” in KJV, “completely”) does come just before the second use of νεκροὶ (the dead). So the passage is saying:

    Otherwise, what do people mean by being baptized on behalf of the metaphorically dead (i.e. the apostles)? If the truly dead are not raised, why are people baptized on their behalf?

    This explanation also recalls what Paul says in 1 Cor. 1:13-17 about divisions on who was being baptized by whom.

    There are many other suggestions and explanations on what Paul means in this passage; that’s just the one I like best.

  6. I’m bothered by the “celebrity brag proxies” too, but there is something else that bothers me: using people’s well-known non-Mormon identities to find their names and associate them with Mormonism. The best example of this are the Holocaust victims, whom we only have knowledge of because they were killed for being Jews. I dislike using that kind of knowledge as a tool to find names.

  7. Jack, I won’t hijack the thread for that; I was merely curious about how it’s interpreted.

    Brian, there are at least two points of view, I think, to holding a copy of Holocaust death records. The first is that we would hold it in trust for its value as a historical record. The other is that we shouldn’t hold onto it at all, and let various Holocaust foundations do the holding.

    There are advantages and disadvantages to each approach. Obviously, if the Church incorporates the Holocaust registry into its databases, it can mine it for red flags in accordance with the agreements it has with the Jews. and catch name submissions for ordinances up front, a good percentage of the time.

    If it doesn’t, then that becomes more difficult, while perhaps gaining the benefit of being able to say, “We don’t make that registry available for that purpose, because we don’t have it.”

    In any case, I’m in theoretical agreement with you: Of course the nature of LDS Temple work is supposed to be familial and ancestral; we don’t identify them for proxy work because they weren’t Mormons. We identify them because they are our own family, without creating sophistries like “oh, they’re in the family of Humans” to justify stuff that’s against Church policies and teachings on the matter.

  8. Rob, I’m all for the Church holding those names in a database for exactly the purpose you describe: preventing abuse. What I’m against is members searching that database—or any other holocaust name list—for names for no other reason than “I know all these people weren’t baptized.”

  9. Brian, I agree. The only exception I’d think to consider, and only very carefully, is when one of those members is a direct descendent of a person on the lists.

  10. Jack, I love your argument that if they don’t consider it valid, why should they worry? I have often followed this same train of thought on a number of “hot-button” issues with the LDS church. I remember talking to a man of another faith who was both very opposed to the LDS church and also black. He was complaining about blacks not being allowed to hold the Priesthood. In the middle of his tirade I stopped him and said, “Sir, do you believe that the LDS church has been given authority from God to act in His name through the Priesthood?” His response was, “No, of course not!” To which I responded, “Then why does it bother you that the LDS church would not allow black men to hold a power that they (the church) do not have in the first place? In other words, if we don’t have the Priesthood, then why does it matter?” That stopped him short. He was still opposed to the church for many other reasons, but at least he stopped worrying about that one.

    Likewise with proxy work for the dead. If we don’t have the authority, and the ordinances don’t mean anything, then what’s the big deal? So I am going to spend a lot of my time getting dunked in a font of lukewarm water while somebody says some words that, in the opinion of those who don’t agree, are ultimately meaningless. Why is it a problem? Or do these people share the worried concern expressed by Joseph’s brothers in Andrew Lloyd Webber’s song “Joseph’s Dreams”?

  11. Rob, my understanding is that that is exactly the agreement the Church reached. Someone correct me if I’m wrong.

  12. BrianJ.
    Kind of.
    That’s the understanding the church thought they had reached.
    Apparently the Jewish groups thought they have the power to deny the descendants of holocaust victims their religious freedoms in living in accordance with their religion. Pinheads.
    Some Mormons continue to disregard the church’s policy about not having work done for them unless you’re family.
    Pinheads.

    Plenty of pinheads to go around.

  13. Doesn’t help matters that Radkey meets with these groups as often as she can, in order to characterize things poorly for the Church.

    Have I mentioned that I have no high opinion of her efforts?

  14. Why does everyone assume a breach of the LDS Church’s policy on submitting only the names of deceased relatives for baptism for the dead? The policy is that only “relatives” (a very broad term) can sumbit names. I am confident that Pres. Obama has Mormon “relatives.” I am confident that many holocaust survivors have Mormon “relatives.”

    However, I agree with the weeds argument. From the Mormon’s point of view, baptism for the dead offers salvation. If the Mromons are wrong, it is a well-intentioned but wholly ineffective act. What is the big deal?

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  18. I remember talking to a man of another faith who was both very opposed to the LDS church and also black. He was complaining about blacks not being allowed to hold the Priesthood. In the middle of his tirade I stopped him and said, “Sir, do you believe that the LDS church has been given authority from God to act in His name through the Priesthood?” His response was, “No, of course not!” To which I responded, “Then why does it bother you that the LDS church would not allow black men to hold a power that they (the church) do not have in the first place? In other words, if we don’t have the Priesthood, then why does it matter?” That stopped him short. He was still opposed to the church for many other reasons, but at least he stopped worrying about that one.

    Um, because it is racial discrimination. Doesn;t matter if the priesthood is really God’s power and authority. It would bother people if any Church ordained clergy or not based on race, regardless if they thought that church was true or not, because it marginalizes the race within the Church’s society, independent of whether it is supernaturally effacacious.

  19. I kind of have to agree with Kullervo. It’s the same reason why I occasionally bag on the church for not ordaining women to the priesthood, even though I don’t believe in the priesthood and have no interest in joining Mormonism. I care that the Mormons / Jehovah’s Witnesses / Complementarian Protestants / Eastern Orthodox / Catholics don’t give women the same opportunities they give men, even if I don’t actually belong to those groups. The more outsiders have the attitude of “not my church, not my problem,” the longer it will take for these groups to reconsider their positions, because outsiders are the potential converts.

    That said though, I make an effort to point out that evangelical Christianity really doesn’t have much high ground on the racism issue. It’s not like we were treating blacks as equals from the beginning, and we’re still healing our own racial divide.

  20. Historically, no. Now though? Well, some evangelical churches are making the switch, and some aren’t. At least in evangelical Christianity the option exists.

    I do believe Mormonism will eventually give women the priesthood. I just don’t know how long it will take.

  21. “but thankfully for them, I worship a God who sees love where everyone else sees weeds.”

    Sorry, I messed up the block quote. This is the sentiment I love.

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