Friday, March 27, 2009

Baptizing Dead Presidents

The HBO series Big Love recently got in trouble with the Mormon Church. It showed a sacred Mormon temple ceremony on TV. A Chicago Tribune article titled 'Big Love' in big trouble with Mormons has the details.

I visited Temple Square in Salt Lake City in April 2008. I enjoyed the tour I took with several charismatic female missionaries. I had no expectations I would be allowed to get inside the temple though. I knew that this was off limits to non-believers (and even non-temple approved Mormons) and I respected this. I can't go into the top floor of the White House either. I have no problem with anyone restricting access to their property for security, privacy, or religious reasons.

However, showing Mormon ceremonies on TV does not bother me. The Mormon Church is America's first home grown religion. And it is doing well. It has entered the American popular culture. Sacred secrets got out long ago and they will continue to be showcased in forms the Mormon Church may not like. I bet this ultimately will work to the benefit of the Mormons. Strong family oriented religions like the LDS will not be harmed by publicity and it will probably find new converts from the publicity.

I grew up around Mormons in Ohio. My Mom's best friend is a Mormon. I socialized with many Mormons growing up. I was even a member of a Mormon Boy Scout troop. My years of contact with LDS members helped me write my Battlestar Galactica and Mormonism essay years ago. It is based on the 70s series but I have found some new parallels with the 21st Century version of the show as well. It may be a while though before I attempt to publish the next paper as I still need some time to contemplate the complicated and brilliant new incarnation of Galactica.

The Mormon faith is very different from other Christian sects. It believes in marriage for eternity. This is important as the faithful will ultimately become gods and create spirit children in the afterlife. As Joseph Smith said, "God himself was once as we are now, and is an exalted man…That is the great secret….if you were to see him today, you would see him like a man [or woman] in form….for Adam [and Eve] were created in the very fashion, image and likeness of God." These new gods in the Mormon tradition will populate new worlds with spirits and the cycle will continue. As Nietzsche (and the writers of the new Galactica) note, "This has happened before, it will happen again." The philosophical idea of the eternal return is both ancient and new!

The LDS Church also believes in a doctrine of the baptism for the dead. This is based on 1 Corinthians 15:29 (King James Version), "Else what shall they do which are baptized for the dead, if the dead rise not at all? Why are they then baptized for the dead?"

Wikipedia notes of this practice, "In the practice of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (or "Mormons"), a living person, acting as proxy, is baptized by immersion on behalf of a deceased person of the same gender. The baptism ritual is as follows: after calling the living proxy by name, the person performing the baptism says, "Having been commissioned of Jesus Christ, I baptize you for and in behalf of [full name of deceased person], who is dead, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen." The proxy is then immersed briefly in the water. This is almost identical to the way Baptism is performed for living individuals (with slight variation in the wording). Baptism for the dead is a distinctive ordinance of the church and is based on the belief that baptism is a required ordinance for entry into the Kingdom of God."

This practice is of interest for this blog in that the LDS Church is purported to have baptized by proxy many American Presidents. The same Wikipedia article notes, "As a part of these efforts, Mormons have performed temple ordinances on behalf of a number of high profile people. Of particular interest are: the Founding Fathers of the U.S., Presidents of the U.S., John Wesley, Christopher Columbus, Adolf Hitler, and others." The Hitler baptism makes no sense but the others do for an American founded religion.

Unfortunately, the Wikipedia article does not provide a citation. My attempts to find a good source has relied on Wikipedia and blog posts. However, I am posting this because many of my Mormon friends insist that Presidents such as Washington, Jefferson, Adams, etc, have had the opportunity after death to join the Mormon church.

Can you provide a citation or commentary that would prove or disprove this? Please post a comment if you do.


Brad Hart said...

Very nice piece. As a practicing Mormon, I believe you were quite fair in your presentation of the practice of baptism for the dead. If I might add something just for clarification, it's important to realize that Mormons DO NOT believe that once a dead person has been baptised they automatically become Mormon. On the contrary. We believe that ALL people (in the hereafter) have the freedom to accept or reject the ordinance of baptism.

As for a citation on the baptism of the founding fathers and other prominent historical figures, I did a post a while back on this topic on my blog, where I believe I note the citation. It comes from President Wilford Woodruff (the 4th President of the Mormon Church). Here's the link to my post on this topic:

M said...

Thank you Brad. That is exactly the citations I was looking for to see if this was real.