This morning, I came across two different articles about how members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints have elected to do proxy baptisms for Princess Diana and Mahatma Ghandi. Other celebrities who have been "dead dunked" into the LDS church include Anne Frank, Adolf Hitler, Simon Wiesenthal's parents, Daniel Pearl, and Mickey and Minnie Mouse.
What is a proxy baptism, you ask? It's a religious ordinance that Mormons do after people have died. Basically, it entails a temple worthy church member submitting the name of a dead person and then being baptized in the dead person's stead. Mormons are only supposed to do these baptisms for people within their own families. For instance, a temple worthy Mormon would be encouraged to do temple work for a great, great, great grandparent who was around before Mormonism existed. The dead relative who is supposedly in spiritual limbo on the other side could then choose whether or not he or she wants to accept the gospel of "the one true church"-- Mormonism.
When news stories come up about how Mormons are "dead dunking" celebrities who happen to subscribe to a different faith, some church members are quick to say that the ordinances are meaningless. "If you don't believe in our church, what difference does it make?" they protest. "The dead person can choose not to accept Mormonism if they don't want to." they lament. "It's done out of love and concern. I would be flattered if someone did that for me." they apologize. Or my personal favorite, "You can't possibly understand our religion. You have been misinformed about what this means." The translation is, of course, that since I can't understand and am "confused" about what Mormons believe, I can't possibly be qualified to express an opinion about some of their weirder practices.
What Mormons don't seem to understand is that choices are for the living. Moreover, it's offensive when members of the LDS church take it upon themselves to perform religious ordinances for strangers. It's especially offensive when the person they are baptizing actually died for their faith. Anne Frank died during World War II because she was Jewish. What good does proxy baptizing do for her now? Do the Mormons really think that if Anne Frank had a choice, she would choose to abandon her religious heritage and identity with Mormonism? Likewise, Daniel Pearl died, in part, because he was a Jew. Even if there really is life after death, would it truly be a comfort to him after having been beheaded that he could now accept Mormonism after death? And what about the feelings of his surviving wife, Mariane, and their son, Adam, who was born after his father's murder?
I wonder how members of the LDS church would react if some well-meaning church group suddenly started performing a similar rite for dead Mormons. Mormons often explain how they have historically been and continue to be persecuted for their beliefs. They like to talk about how church founder Joseph Smith was supposedly "martyred", even though sources point out that Joseph Smith returned fire from his jail cell in Carthage, Illinois. Since they have historically been so persecuted, if anyone should have the slightest understanding how Jews feel, it should be Mormons. They should have the same respect for different religious beliefs that they expect from others.
Mormons often preach that their church is "the one true church". Many members think that their church-- and only their church-- is the one path that leads directly to God. While some have said they would be flattered if someone extended an "invitation" to their faith by baptizing them post-humously, it's my guess that if that ever really happened, Mormons would be raising hell and screaming about persecution. And they would be right to be offended. As some church members like to point out, everyone has their right to free agency. That means everyone has the right to choose.
Mormons should respect other peoples' right to choose their religion while they are still living and stop the practice of dead dunking celebrities. That one act, I think, would help them garner a lot more respect and acceptance from the world as a whole.