29th 2012
Mormon secrets revealed!

Posted under: American history, the body, weirdness

Thinking about that thread on LDS post-mortem baptism of people of other faiths left me wondering:  did some of the angry commenters actually know what Morman post-mortem baptism entails?  I knew all along that there is no use of human remains, no disinterrment, no visitation of graves, and no involvement at all of the baptisees and their families.  If this kind of thing were central to the ritual, then I would share the outrage that some expressed at the practice.  Perhaps people really thought there was some kind of involuntary conscription involved that went beyond uttering someone’s name while a live Mormon undergoes a symbolic baptism on behalf of the baptisee?

Well, don’t take my word for it–take the word of Elna Baker, probably one of America’s most famous Jack Mormons.  She describes the Morman post-mortem baptism ritual, and why someone’s body must actually be immersed in a “water vault,” in a podcast from last September 26 on Marc Maron’s WTF.  Click the link and scroll up to about 40 minutes into the program, and the discussion lasts about 4 minutes.  Baker has actually participated in post-mortem baptisms, and answers some important theological questions posed about the practice.  It’s pretty interesting–embodiment plays a big role.

But the bottom line is that the only involvement of the baptisee is that hir name is read in a temple ritual involving only live Mormon believers.  That’s it.  I’m sorry I wasn’t clearer from the beginning about what this ritual entails.


34 Responses to “Mormon secrets revealed!”

  1. jessica on 29 Feb 2012 at 9:29 am #

    My primary concern with this practice has to do with the massive genealogy efforts that the Mormon church engages in (some of which is motivated by this very practice) to the extent that they have become a huge information source for people seeking such historical/familial information. It is not inconceivable that at some time in the future someone trying to trace history will rely on Mormon records (given their extensive nature), and the idea that history could possible ever mistake someone who is Jewish, much less someone who actually was singled out and murdered precisely because they were Jewish, for a Mormon is, in my opinion, very offensive.

  2. Comradde PhysioProffe on 29 Feb 2012 at 10:11 am #

    Whatever. It’s just typical dumshitte delusional religious gibberish, no better or worse than jews strapping fucken wooden boxes to their heads or christians eating fucken crackers and washing them down with shitteasse swill wine or muslims bowing towards some fucken city across the globe or whatthefuckever.

    The important point is that all this delusional claptrap functions as cover for actual real horrible fucken shitte: misogyny, homophobia, war, rape, murder, torture, and genocide.

  3. Jettboy on 29 Feb 2012 at 11:03 am #

    “and the idea that history could possible ever mistake someone who is Jewish, much less someone who actually was singled out and murdered precisely because they were Jewish, for a Mormon is, in my opinion, very offensive.”

    LOl, that is too funny. The only ones who can believe this are the self-righteous who believe propaganda over what is actually taking place. NO ONE who is baptized by proxy are counted as Mormon. NONE! Its considered doing the paper work and would need the dead to sign at the bottom for it to be accepted as a done deal.

  4. Comradde PhysioProffe on 29 Feb 2012 at 11:27 am #

    LOl, that is too funny. The only ones who can believe this are the self-righteous who believe propaganda over what is actually taking place.

    No. You know what is too funny (pathetic)? That anyone believes that the specific details of exactly what specific delusional imprecations, incantations, and other mumbo-jumbo go on in one of these baptizing-the-dead ceremonies matters.

  5. Western Dave on 29 Feb 2012 at 11:57 am #

    @Jessica. How in the world could that happen? The Mormons are great about turning over the genealogical records to public repositories (such as the Newberry Library) and they don’t alter the records and the baptisms don’t make one Mormon (although they are a precondition for a soul on the next plane of existence being able to choose Mormonism – according to believers).

  6. Historiann on 29 Feb 2012 at 12:07 pm #

    This must be LDS week. Here’s an interesting exploration of the historical ban on black priests and the revelation in 1978 that men of all ethnic and racial backgrounds could in fact be priests.

    Of course, the Mormons are hardly the only white Christian denomination to discriminate against non-white congregants. It’s an All-White-American tradition!

    Interestingly, no one writes articles on the origins of the exclusion of women from the priesthood. That’s still a much more common form of formal, doctrinal discrimination, and of course not just among the LDS.

    I wonder when we can expect some divine revelation on this point?

  7. M.K. on 29 Feb 2012 at 1:46 pm #

    I thought the two Rachels made a lot of valid points on the other thread.

    As a historian of religion in the U.S., I am well aware that Mormon baptism doesn’t require digging up dead people or using their body parts or anything like that. I still think the practice is legitimately offensive to many people.

    Let me try an analogy. Let’s say that I belong to a church that proposes that only men can be spiritually pure enough to be saved. Let’s say, furthermore, that we do lots of historical research so that we can find the names of dead women so that we can baptize them. In our understanding, this baptism gives dead women the option of becoming “spiritually male,” so that they can be saved.

    Is this problematic? Well, I’m sure some people would be able to write it off as totally meaningless. But other people would regard it as offensive — both because it seems to devalue women as women and because it strongly implies that if women “had all the facts,” they would choose to be male.

    As a general rule, women can’t choose to become men in real life (at least not without expensive and difficult hormone treatments and/or surgery). But any living Jew could choose to become a Mormon, if he or she wanted to. I maintain that if a Jew (or anyone else) chooses not to make that decision in life, that choice should be respected in death.

  8. Historiann on 29 Feb 2012 at 2:06 pm #

    Please note: I am not arguing with anyone’s right to be offended.

    I am merely writing here to clarify what exactly is at stake. I thought that several comments–not by the Rachels–were over-the-top with their allegations of “forced religious practices.”

  9. Anonymous on 29 Feb 2012 at 2:35 pm #

    That analogy isn’t necessarily useful, since even when ethnicity/nationality/oppression/heritage are tied up in religion, having a different religion than a Mormon is pretty much nothing like being a woman in a patriarchy.

    If Mormons ran the entire world, your analogy might work a little better.

  10. Historiann on 29 Feb 2012 at 2:41 pm #


    Where is this magical world outside of patriarchy, and how can I get in?

  11. Anonymous on 29 Feb 2012 at 2:46 pm #

    I was interrupted mid-post and intended to respond to M.K.’s comment.

  12. Anonymous on 29 Feb 2012 at 2:49 pm #

    I understood the analogy to be:

    nonmormon baptized as a pre-mormon by a mormon : woman baptized as a pre-male by a patriarch

    I think that analogy is flawed in part because it doesn’t take into account that there IS a magical world outside of Mormonism.

  13. Anonymous on 29 Feb 2012 at 2:50 pm #

    (and there is not a magical world outside of patriarchy.)

  14. KT on 29 Feb 2012 at 3:50 pm #

    A branch of my family was baptised post-mortem, and it is a big deal. It isn’t ‘oh, we are praying for the dead’. Those relatives of mine, who died in the holocaust, are now listed in the Mormon Church’s vast geneological holdings as being Mormon. Getting their names removed has proven nearly impossible.

    The point is, they died because they belonged to a religion that doensn’t accept Christ. So to be ‘baptised’ post-mortem by a church that states that their souls won’t go to heaven unless they are sanctified in Christ is pretty offensive. Even for me, an atheist. It is just a really disrespectful doctrine. The local Catholic church prays for holocaust victims twice year, but they don’t suggest that those victims should be considered Catholic, or be given posthumous sacrements. They just pray for the souls of the dead. That seems sweet to me, if a little misguided. It is the difference between, “I hope you are at peace,” and “My religion is the only way to peace”.

  15. Profane on 29 Feb 2012 at 5:24 pm #

    “You know what is too funny (pathetic)? That anyone believes that the specific details of exactly what specific delusional imprecations, incantations, and other mumbo-jumbo go on in one of these baptizing-the-dead ceremonies matters.”

    Attempting to understand why those specific details matter to believers is central to historical understanding.

  16. Historiann on 29 Feb 2012 at 5:57 pm #

    Anonymous–sorry. I thought you were suggesting that I had made an analogy.

    KT: I’m sorry. I hear you. I don’t know if you know, but does anyone else know if any branch of Judaisim sponsor a de-baptismal ceremony? It seems like something like that might go some way towards making families feel a little better. (But I understand that Judaisim can’t offer an apology or retraction on behalf of the LDS, which would perhaps be the most fitting reparation.)

  17. Western Dave on 29 Feb 2012 at 6:53 pm #

    “Those relatives of mine, who died in the holocaust, are now listed in the Mormon Church’s vast geneological holdings as being Mormon.”

    Is it possible that you are confusing, having held the ceremony for them with listed as being Mormon. Having the ceremony doesn’t make one Mormon in the afterlife. Only the soul can choose to do that. They are not listed as “being Mormon.”

  18. Comradde PhysioProffe on 29 Feb 2012 at 7:10 pm #

    Attempting to understand why those specific details matter to believers is central to historical understanding.

    Why is historical understanding of delusional religious gibberish of any value? This shitte has been fuckeing uppe human affairs for fucken forever. Fucke these motherfucken assholes and their hateful jeezus shitte. Who gives a fucken crappe about the details of their delusions?

  19. Historiann on 29 Feb 2012 at 7:35 pm #

    Comrade: you don’t have to read here if you don’t like the mode of inquiry, but historians usually have to deal with “hateful shitte” more often than not, religious or not.

    You can do what you like, but choosing NOT to understand something seems against the spirit of open inquiry, in addition to historically myopic.

    (And, seriously: do you think that the absence of religion would bring on the era of global peace, love, and understanding? Religion has played a role in human conflicts since time immemorial, but I think that’s putting the cart before the horse.)

  20. Janice on 29 Feb 2012 at 8:51 pm #

    I just want to know what’s up with Mormon underwear and Mormon food stockpiling. Now THERE’S some even more intriguing social history elements to explicate for one of you modernists!

  21. Big Boss Lady on 29 Feb 2012 at 9:27 pm #

    Quoth Historiann: “Interestingly, no one writes articles on the origins of the exclusion of women from the priesthood. That’s still a much more common form of formal, doctrinal discrimination, and of course not just among the LDS.”

    I ran a search in Google scholar for “origins of the exclusion of women from the priesthood” and got 20,000 hits. If you expand it to Google, you get over 5,000,000 hits. I searched in Jstor for “women” “priesthood” and “exclusion” and got over 1,000 articles. These three searches took about 30 seconds to conduct. Please don’t play lazy oppression Olympics.

  22. Historiann on 01 Mar 2012 at 7:49 am #

    Big Boss Lady: of course “people” write about this in all kinds of venues, but the Washington Post is not running articles about it now, and the link I provided is to the WaPo. Nor is the WaPo writing articles about the Catholic church’s gender politics, although 2/4 of the remaining Republican presidential candidates are Catholic. My point was more about the differential treatment that the LDS get, although of course I am concerned that people are less concerned with an ongoing injustice than they are about one that was resolved.

    Please don’t make lazy accusations of me playing oppression Olympics.

    What is it about Mormons that makes so many of you peevish and cross, when you could rightly feel this way about the vast, vast, vast majority of organized religions? At least Comrade PhysioProf is consistent with his blanket dismissal of any form of religious belief!

  23. Big Boss Lady on 01 Mar 2012 at 8:08 am #

    I’m not a regular reader of the Washington Post, but the New York Times ran an article a few days ago about the Catholic Church’s gender politics, if that helps. In fact, there are a sizeable number of articles recently about the Catholic Church’s gender politics, given the controversies about insurance for birth control and Santorum.I’m not peevish and cross, if I’m part of the many of you to whom you are referring.

  24. Historiann on 01 Mar 2012 at 8:14 am #

    Thanks, BBL–you are right that some of this stuff has come up recently with Santorum’s extreme views. Maybe I’m the one who’s peevish and cross this morning.

  25. Shane in Utah on 01 Mar 2012 at 9:36 am #

    As for me myself personally, once I’m dead you can add my name to whatever list you like; hell, you can even gather my ashes from the wind and do whatever you like with them.

    But obviously some people are offended by the practice of baptizing dead souls. What’s truly aggravating about the whole thing is that the LDS Church authorities have promised repeatedly and emphatically to Jewish leaders that they would stop baptizing the souls of people who died in the Shoah. And it keeps happening. It’s indicative of the institution’s arrogance, and its lack of trustworthiness and credibility on pretty much any issue.

    On a related topic, have you heard about the prominent BYU professor who this week offered a rationale for the historical ban on blacks holding the LDS priesthood?


    While we’re clarifying misconceptions, I wonder how many people in the media who talk about the lifting of the ban in 1978 understand what “priesthood” means in the LDS context. The ban didn’t mean that blacks couldn’t become priests like in the Catholic Church; it meant that black men weren’t considered adult members of the church (Mormon boys routinely receive the priesthood at age 12).

  26. Historiann on 01 Mar 2012 at 9:48 am #

    Shane–that proffie’s comments were in the article I linked to above. Nice. Someone should tell him that it’s not the crime, it’s the coverup that will bring you down.

    I agree that having asked the LDS to stop the baptisms, the baptisms should have stopped. But by my lights, offenses against souls are much lesser than injustices against living bodies.

  27. Grad Student on 01 Mar 2012 at 10:42 am #

    I find this practice offensive on two levels. First, it disrespects the fundamental ideas of bodily, cognitive, and spiritual autonomy that I see as inherent to a feminist-minded culture. This practice fundamentally ignores the lack-of-consent from the baptisee and his or her family and instead allows the ruling members of the hierarchy to determine what is beneficial for everybody else.

    Second, the LDS church has repeatedly promised not to perform post-mortem baptism on people of the Jewish faith. They have repeatedly broken that promise. That, alone, is offensive.

  28. Spanish Prof on 01 Mar 2012 at 11:41 am #

    As a secular Jew, with the history of forced conversions we’ve had in the past (and I am not equaling both practices), I found the Mormon practice highly offensive. And from one of the links in a comment above, I found out that they posthumously baptized slain journalist Daniel Pearl, who was forced to say in a video made by his executioners before being murdered “My father’s Jewish. My mother’s Jewish. I’m Jewish.”


    I find the LDS church posthumous baptism of Pearl abominable (yes, less abominable than the murder in itself, but what the LDS church did still makes me want to puke).

  29. Shane in Utah on 01 Mar 2012 at 1:32 pm #

    But by my lights, offenses against souls are much lesser than injustices against living bodies.

    This rather glib false binary misses my point: by promising to end this practice, and then carrying on with it, the LDS Church is disrespecting not the dead, but the living people to whom those promises were made. And there are of course other issues here besides body and soul: integrity, moral high ground, respect, civility, tolerance. These are all legitimate grounds for criticizing the church’s practices whatever your own beliefs about baptism. And none of these issues are abstract or hypothetical for those of us living inside the Zion Curtain; many (not all!) Mormons show the same arrogance and disrespect toward the living who don’t share their faith that they do toward the dead…

  30. Contingent Cassandra on 01 Mar 2012 at 1:41 pm #

    Fascinating! I did have some idea (a temple was built in the area where I grew up when I was a teenager, and before it was consecrated there were tours, which included explanations of various rooms and ritual furnishings, including the baptismal font/pool. The rooms where brides prepare for wedding also seemed to receive a lot of attention — but perhaps I went with a girl scout troop? I can’t quite remember), but that explains more of the theology.

    I still find the significant investment of time and energy in somebody else’s salvation inspiring in some ways, but mostly offputting and intrusive. But, even as our church is talking more about witnessing to our faith (an endeavor I support, though with some discomfort in the execution), I find the idea of doing anything specifically designed to convert others, living or dead, disturbing.

  31. Anonymous on 01 Mar 2012 at 2:55 pm #

    For those Jews who find Mormon baptisms offensive, do you find them more/less offensive than a Christian praying for your conversion?

  32. Comrade PhysioProf on 01 Mar 2012 at 3:25 pm #

    I am very interested in the reasons why people have throughout history been driven to believe bullshitte delusional gibberish, like that underwear can be “magical” or that some supernatural being gives a flying fucke if you strap wooden boxes to your head. And I am very interested in the psychological and social dynamics that drive people to use these delusions to provide justification for their vilest impulses.

    What I am not interested in are the internal complexities of those delusions themselves, such as the specific tailoring required for the underwear to be appropriately magical or whether the wooden boxes need to have some special shit inside them or how the converting-the-dead-to-mormons process is complete hinges on whether the dead person has signed some cockamamie document.

  33. Profane on 01 Mar 2012 at 5:43 pm #

    If you seek to understand the psychology of religion, there is no end to the bibliography. If you seek to have an understanding of the cultural history of a society then the details become important.

  34. Mormon gender politics on 02 Mar 2012 at 8:07 am #

    Is this conversation still underway? I am a women’s and African American historian who grew up in Utah and had Mormons on half of my family, not to mention everywhere around me. I am fascinated by the race and gender politics of the early and present LDS church and incorporate it into my courses when I can, admittedly from an outsider’s perspective.

    On the race issue, what a cop out to NOT acknowledge the cultural milieu of the past that led to policies many now deem to be embarrassing, erroneous, and in need of apology. Why not admit to the same fallibility that upholders of slavery and the divine right of husbands to mistreat and deny the personhood of their wives have had to do as times, ideologies, and laws changed. Stop hiding behind divine revelation to explain while not apologizing! But I digress…

    Here’s a link people who are interested in priesthood politics and women might find interesting: https://www.sunstonemagazine.com/pdf/029-16-25.pdf (I hope that works. if not, google Lavina Anderson, “A Gift Given, a Gift Taken: Washing, Anointing, and Blessing the Sick Among Mormon Women” in a journal called SUNSTONE.) This article explains that 19th c. Mormon women had and used certain priesthood rights now denied to them, as well as LONG denied to but now possessed by men of color.

    It has long been of great interest to me why women would have endured what they did to cross the plains, often leaving behind cherished family and possessions, risking ridicule and persecution, as well as life and limb, to suffer the pains of isolation, hostility, pestilence, and all manner of difficulities…all so they could endure polygamous marriages, which NO women liked, and which caused some women to side-step their place and openly criticize this particularly egregious aspect of female oppression. What must have been different back then to have made the women’s faith and commitment (or desperation?) so strong that they wouldn’t have revolted? I could never accept that the hierarchy that elevated their pre-pubescent son’s righteousness above that of their mothers, along with all the other trappings of male privilege, would have attracted many female “saints.” It turns out, interestingly, that early Mormon women did in fact have more rights than modern Mormon women do, or realize they do. However, it should probably be noted that they never held the full entitlements of priesthood, only the power to bless and heal the sick. Still, why women lost that “gift” is interesting.

    Today’s Mormon women’s domestic work is still not acknowledged as such. Oh how many times I witnessed the Mormon mothers of friends/bfs up before 4a.m. to press the church clothes of their MANY children and husband while simultaneously prepping breakfast and dinner for an army, all before everyone else would rise on their so-called day of rest. I also remember hearing the husbands of such women bemoaning the shameful practice of mowing lawns or working in gas stations on “the sabbath.” So far as I saw things, everyone in the family got their day of rest BECAUSE of the extra invisible work performed by the wife/mother, who didn’t even have the power to bless herself if she cut her finger while paring ten pounds of potatoes that would later comprise the traditional favorite Mormon side dish, “funeral potatoes.”

    Perhaps someday I will write a feminist analysis of Mormon womanhood…once I have established myself as some other type of scholar first. There’s some very good stuff there, and the church is eventually, I believe, going to have to change its policies on women’s low position in the family/cultural hierarchy if it is to continue to grow. At least, that is my hope.

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