Saturday, January 28, 2012

Another Mormon Practice, Briefly Explained

English: Drawing of a Mormon baptism ceremony,...Image via Wikipedia
Gawker puts the worst possible face on it: "Yes, the Romneys Converted Mitt's Dead Atheist Father-in-Law to Mormonism." But as religious practices go, it's actually pretty cool. Here's the skinny:

Like many (not all, but many) churches, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints claims to be the One Truth Faith. That is, through apostolic succession (in LDS's case, through a "restoration" of same after the Catholics and Protestants broke it), the church claims to act as God's authority on Earth.

That entails certain responsibilities. In order to get into heaven, certain things have to have happened. For example, you need to have been baptized. And not just dunked in any random body of water by any random person, but baptized by someone duly and properly exercising the aforementioned authority.

Where most churches making such claims fall down is on the issue of "what happens to the guy who never heard the truth?" Or, in LDS's case, even someone who heard it but didn't "get" it in time.

In some sects, well, that guy just gets a one-way ticket to Ye Aulde Lake of Fire.

In Mormonism, there's a sort of post-mortality "holding pen" for such people, where they have a chance to accept the true gospel and get into heaven. But they do still have to be baptized and so forth.

The LDS church spends quite a bit of time and money on conducting baptisms by proxy -- "baptism for the dead." One reason Mormons are so well known in the area of genealogy is that they're constantly working to identify people for these proxy baptisms, so that as many people as possible can get into heaven.

What could be more humane or pious than that? Mormons believe you have to be a Mormon to get into heaven. They also know that even their extensive missionary efforts aren't going to reach everyone. But you get a second chance after death, and they make an effort to help you out even beyond the grave.

And yes, there's a biblical hook to hand the practice on:  1st Corinthians 15:29. Baptism for the dead does appear to have been a Christian practice for 300 years or so before the emerging Catholic order suppressed it.

The Gawker headline isn't, strictly speaking, correct. If Edward Davies converted to Mormonism posthumously, he did it himself. All his daughter and son-in-law's family did was make sure that if he did so, he was equipped with the requisite certifications and such to make that conversion all proper and legal in God's eyes.

There are a lot of reasons not to support Mitt Romney for President. Depending on your religious beliefs, his Mormonism may even be one of them. But this baptism stuff is surely a minor thing within that other thing, and not nearly as creepy as Gawker makes it sound.

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