Friday, Nov 17, 2017
Home » Beliefs » Ask A Mormon: Can you be baptized after death?

Ask A Mormon: Can you be baptized after death?

Flickr photo of graveyard by Rory MacLeod

Ask A Mormon: Can you be baptized after death?

Share
Do you have a question about the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints? Submit it online or fill out the form below. 
 After your death, can someone baptize you into the Mormon faith?

SPO-House-ad_Ask-A-Mormon_0823139

Mormons believe that “God is no respecter of persons” (Acts 10:34). He loves all of his children, regardless of when or where they were born. We also believe that baptism, and the covenants we make at baptism, are stepping stones on the path to salvation and exaltation. A loving father in heaven would not refuse his children the chance to progress simply because they were born into a situation where hearing the gospel or receiving ordinances wasn’t possible. We believe that “baptism for the dead” is the method God has provided to allow all of his children the same opportunity, no matter their circumstances while they lived on earth.

The ordinance of baptism for the dead in temples is almost identical to what you’d see if you attended a baptismal service at any LDS chapel, with a single phrase added to the baptismal prayer mentioning the name of the deceased person for whom the baptism is being performed.

Baptism for the dead is one of several ritual washings, anointings, blessings and sacramental ordinances performed in Mormon temples, which we believe prepare our souls and families to grow closer to God and progress both on this earth and after we die. There are three options for having these ordinances done: participate in them while you’re alive, wait until the resurrection or have them done by proxy on your behalf after you die.

Latter-day Saints hold agency to be one of the most important gifts God has given to all his children. We believe that life continues after death and that our agency is still in force then. These vicarious ordinances are not binding on those for whom they are performed. They are not added to the membership rolls, and they are not considered members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. These proxy baptisms simply provide the opportunity for those who have died to accept the ordinance and related covenants if they choose to.

When we perform baptisms for the dead, we’re not rewriting their life history or saying, “This person is now a member of our Church.” We’re saying, “Lord, this person didn’t have the option of doing this when they were alive. I don’t know if they want it or not. But if they do, please let me do this on their behalf, so that if they decide they want these blessings and covenants, they can accept them now instead of waiting until the resurrection.” Mormons view these proxy baptisms and ceremonies similarly to the way Catholics view saying prayers or mass for the dead; we’re asking for blessings on their behalf.

In keeping with the Church’s emphasis on families, members of the Church are supposed to research their own family trees and only submit names of their own ancestors for baptism. This Church-wide focus on families also necessitates a respect for others’ wishes regarding their families, and that’s what I believe is behind the Church’s denunciation of those who inappropriately submit names for proxy baptism. In addition, for those born within the last 95 years, permission is supposed to be obtained from, at a minimum, the closest living relative before ordinances are performed. For example, my family hasn’t done this proxy work for anyone in my grandmother’s line because my dad’s aunt objected and asked us not to, so we have respected her request.

Every religion, every organization or group, however, has those who get overzealous in pursuit of their goals. No one is immune from the very human tendency to get too focused on the “end” and lose perspective on the here-and-now. Unfortunately, that has happened in some cases with baptism for the dead and particularly, as you mentioned, for Holocaust victims. As Church leaders have cracked down on those who submit names from unauthorized groups, such as Holocaust victims or celebrities, those who do so can lose their access to the Church’s genealogical database and possibly face additional discipline as well. (See more information in this article from last year.)

In most cases of inappropriate submissions, I believe that people simply lost sight of the forest for the trees and forgot the primary focus. These proxy baptisms are about asking for blessings on behalf of our own ancestors, while respecting the feelings and wishes of others regarding their ancestors.

 

Emily Geddes

About Emily Geddes

Emily H. Geddes was born to two physicists and grew up as a Navy brat. Born-and-raised as a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, she holds a bachelor’s degree in theatre from Brigham Young University, and earned an MBA from Eastern Washington University.

Visit My Website
View All Posts
Share

Comments

comments

Check Also

Ask An Atheist: What about our atmosphere, oxygen?

I am presuming the questioner means how is it that we have the atmosphere we do today.  That's a fairly easy one.

  • Charlie Byers

    Thanks for the response, Emily – That’s a perspective I hadn’t considered. What you’re describing sounds, at least, in better taste than the picture that’s been painted for me by other people.
    It raises an interesting question about whether you can ask a covenant, rather than (or in addition to) a blessing, in someone else’s name, doesn’t it? My concept of the LDS church is of an organization that’s pretty rigorous about the difference.

    • Mer

      Charlie – at least for me, as a Mormon, I see the difference this way. We believe that a covenant requires three parts: the Lord makes promises to us, we make promises to the Lord, AND we take action to confirm the covenant and show our obedience (via baptism or ritual washing/annointing, etc). So it’s not that I’m making the covenant on their behalf – I can’t. I’m asking if the Lord will give them the blessing of being able to choose to make the covenant with Him **if they want to** by letting me fulfill the physical action requirements by proxy.

      I’m actually a family history consultant for my congregation – and one of my jobs is educating people about doing their family history and only submitting family names with permission for proxy work. Try as we might, there are always some zealots who think they’ll get more celestial brownie points than anyone else if they submit every name they find – no matter how distantly or dubiously related – and rush through all of the work. I’ve run into lots of Mormons who over-simplify the whole concept and conflate the action with the covenant itself – or think doing proxy work for someone is a magic bullet guaranteeing that person’s salvation. They’re totally misinterpreting and misusing the doctrine, and we try to nip it in the bud when we run into those attitudes.

      • Charlie Byers

        Mer – your work as a family history consultant sounds like it could get tricky when there are celestial brownie points at stake. 😉 Thanks for the answer. What you say about covenants makes sense, but I can also relate to how difficult it is to hold a big group to a high standard of caution, with practices like that.

        • Mer

          SOOOOOO tricky! People get downright crazy about those celestial brownie points! 😉 Though I don’t know how much clearer the church can get. There are six pages of instructions for submitting names for temple work – the instructions talk about “ANCESTORS” about a dozen times. You have to verify multiple times that you have permission and/or that the person is a family member. So anyone who submits a name without permission has to outright lie about it. And anyone who wants to do a sacred ceremony so much that they’ll break one of the 10 Commandments to do it has … umm… much bigger personal issues to address. (the instructions are here: https://help.familysearch.org/kb/guides/en/ordinances.pdf).

          Luckily, every name that’s submitted for temple work can now be traced back to the person who submitted it. So if a closer family member complains about temple work being done without their permission, it’s pretty easy for us to revoke the submitter’s access to the system and correct the problem.

          I have to say though – the abusers are a very, very, very small minority. Most of the permission issues I’ve run into have just been honest mistakes. 99% of people who submit names for temple ordinances are doing it for their own ancestors and relatives as a sign of love and respect. I’ve worked with families to do temple work for their babies or children who died, and it is truly a healing process for them. That’s actually how baptisms for the dead began in the early LDS church: they were initially done by women who had lost husbands or babies before they joined the church or had the chance to be baptized themselves. The whole point of temple work is bringing families and generations together – so it makes me *facepalm* when someone gets so focused on that that they offend their living family members. I just don’t think that the act of love the dead should ever be more important than showing respect, love, and compassion for the living.

  • Sue Stevens

    I suppose I’m still unclear as to why the Mormons insist on characterizing these proxy baptisms as simply provide the opportunity for those who have died to accept the ordinance and related covenants if they choose to. You stated in your article “Lord, this person didn’t have the option of doing this when they were alive. I don’t know if they want it or not. But if they do, please let me do this on their behalf, so that if they decide they want these blessings and covenants, they can accept them now instead of waiting until the resurrection.” Wouldn’t that mean that since the Mormon missionaries have discussed their church with my parents and since my parents choose to retain their own spiritual belief that my parents had the option of being baptized into the Mormon faith while they were alive? So why after they died would they end up on a proxy list–especially if Mormons are not allowed to submit names for temple work unless they are related to the person? Frankly, the explanation sounds dishonest to me, and the practice feels disrespectful to those still living. Just to add some background to my question, I’ve started using the Mormon Family Research Library but I’m afraid the entire FamilySearch mechanism exists to gather names. I don’t want to disrespect those relatives that I love by dishonering the beliefs they held while they were alive in my quest to hunt down family history.

    • Sue~

      The Church doesn’t keep records regarding who the missionaries have taught or met with, so there’s no way of tracking whether or not a certain person already had the option of being baptized into the Mormon faith while they were alive.

      That being said, your parents shouldn’t have ended up on a proxy list unless they had a close relative (as in a sibling, spouse or another child) who specifically submitted their names for temple work to be done, or they were born more than 110 years ago. (In the original post I said the rule was 95 years, but I recently learned that it has been expanded to 110 years.) As I mentioned above, despite every effort to educate members of the Church, some overzealous people disregard the rules. I’m very sorry that happened.

      FamilySearch is not used to gather names for proxy baptisms. Those using FamilySearch have to specifically request the ordinances be completed and submit specific names for that purpose. In that submission process they attest that they are submitting the names in accordance with the rules and policies I’ve outlined. You can specifically request that your ancestors remain “uncleared” for proxy work and that will be displayed on FamilySearch in the field regarding temple ordinances. You can also notify FamilySearch to remove the ordinance information from their records if proper permission was not obtained, and you can report an unauthorized ordinance to the Church, as well. When an unauthorized ordinance is reported, the person who submitted names inappropriately is contacted and their FamilySearch access is suspended or revoked.

      I’m not an expert on FamilySearch, but you can contact them through the online help center available at the website. It’s staffed with people who can walk you through anything I mentioned above – you can send a message or do a live chat. I hope you’re able to resolve your concerns quickly, Sue.

      Best wishes,
      Emily

      • Sue Stevens

        Thank you Emily for your response. It is without a doubt the clearest (and most respectful) answer I’ve ever received on this subject. Without exception, every other time I’ve asked the answer is theological rather than temporal and practical. I will follow through by contacting FamilySearch. I think the answer to my question is hidden within the “or” part of your answer coupled with the change from 95 years to 110 years. My father was born in 1911 so he falls right into that space of “or born more than…” .

      • Sue Stevens

        Emily,
        I thought it would be appropriate to provide you and your readers with an update on this topic. I did contact FamilySearch as you suggested. Below is the entire response they provided. Although your original reponse to my query left me hopeful, I continue to believe the purpose behind FamilySearch is proxy ordinance work.
        Dear Sue Stevens,
        Thank you for contacting FamilySearch about your desire to having proxy work not done or restricted. It is not possible to have this done however this proxy work if done will have no effect if not accepted. We are attaching a document that explains the policy on that subject. If you would like to speak to us about you concerns please give a good time to call and we would be pleased speak with you further on this subject.
        Thank you for using our program and hope that you will have a positive experience with it. If you have further concerns please feel free to contact us.
        Sincerely,
        FamilySearch
        Patron and Partner Services

        • Sue~

          I sent you an email at the address you used to post the above comment, but just in case, I’m posting it here as well.

          “I’ve spent the last half hour or so on a live chat with someone on the FamilySearch website. They assure me that they can address your issues, that the temple proxy work *can* be restricted and removed, but I don’t have enough information to give them. Would you be willing to give me your phone number [please do so via email, not in a comment here!] or the case number off the message that they sent you so I can pass it on to them and they can contact you about it?

          “If you’re not interested in doing that, I would encourage you to try doing a live chat on the familysearch website, so they can address the problem. Ask for a supervisor. The response you received was *not* adequate.

          “I am truly sorry that you’ve had such a frustrating experience with this.”

          Emily

  • @Mer, your work doing family history does sound quite interesting! From what I understand, LDS allows non-Mormons to use their libraries to do genealogy research. I know in Salt Lake people come from all over the world to use the amazing facilities. Does Family Search work the same way?

    • Mer

      Tracy – Yup. Anyone can use FamilySearch. It’s basically the online equivalent of the brick and mortar Family History Libraries. There are teams of indexers transcribing the written materials at the SLC library – and they’re uploaded to the FamilySearch database in real time.

  • Very cool, thanks!

  • Kathy

    I’m sorry to chime in on this several months after the fact, but I just found this article whilst googling. My LDS convert brother just had my parents proxy baptized and sealed last week in Salt Lake City. They passed away last year. He informed none of his siblings, including me, that he was doing this, and, I believe, he instructed his adult children not to mention it to us beforehand.

    My parents were devout Catholics and would have never wanted either of these things done on their behalf, and, furthermore, made it clear to my brother that they did not want it done. Yet he went ahead and did it anyway.

    I cannot tell you how offensive this is. Everything about proxy baptisms and proxy sealings is so passive aggressive. The overwhelming message is, “hey, it can’t hurt. if they don’t want it, they don’t have to accept.” I fail to understand why if the LDS church would not allow them into the temple before they died, they were so happy to help them after their deaths??? They were not allowed into the temple to watch their grandchildren get married, and had to sit in the parking lot, waiting to welcome them as a married couple which act, as devout Christians, truly offended them.

    My anger is bleeding over right now, and I’m sorry for that. But this is truly offensive. Not to me. But to my parents’ memory. They didn’t want this. They told my brother that *specifically* and he went ahead and did it anyway. How do I get this undone? Whom do I have to petition?

Share