Friday, March 20, 2009

Why Genealogy is Important to Mormons

This post is a little bit of a departure from my advice, website reviews, and general research tips. In fact, it is probably a little personally indulgent, but nonetheless, I get a lot of questions from relatives and visitors to my blog and genealogy sites about why Mormons care so much about and do so much in the realm of genealogy. I used to write articles for a popular writing site that allows people to write articles about certain topics, and the other writers on the site rank your articles. Well, I wrote this particular article below for this writing site on the topic of "Why Genealogy is Important to Mormons." The other writers (most not professionals) rated another article #1. (Mine came in #2, if you were wondering.) That was funny to me because the writer of that article was clearly not a Mormon, as evidenced by her frequent use of the spelling Ladder-day Saints instead of Latter-day Saints and because her answer was way off the mark. So, I'm using this blog post to share with you the article I wrote. These thoughts are my own, and I in no way speak for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints or any other members of it. I do hope this helps answer some questions for so many of you who do wonder why our church members are so interested in genealogy work.

Is the God of Christianity just, merciful, or both? Most Christians believe that God loves us and desires us to be with Him after this life is over; however, that requires us to hear and believe in the name of Jesus Christ. Mormons, or members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, believe the same. But what about those who die never having heard of Jesus? Mormons believe that the atonement of Jesus Christ is powerful enough (and merciful enough) to reach even beyond the veil of death. If He is a merciful and a just God, could He not save those who died without ever hearing His name or being baptized (through no fault of their own)? Mormons believe the answer to this question is a resounding yes, which is why they place such emphasis on doing genealogy.

In addition, Mormons believe that the family unit can remain intact in heaven. They believe that families can be sealed together forever through a sealing ordinance done in LDS temples. As with all religions, Mormons believe that certain ordinances, or rites, are necessary to help us find happiness in this life and the next. For Mormons, these ordinances include baptism and sacred ordinances done in LDS temples, the latter including endowments and the sealing of families together forever.

Because of these beliefs, the Mormon church has a rich heritage of putting time and resources into genealogy work. The central ideology that drives this effort is that all mankind will have the opportunity to hear and accept or reject the gospel of Jesus Christ, whether in this life or the next. Of course, if someone has passed on to the next life without the opportunity, how can they be baptized and have the other necessary ordinances performed? Mormons believe this can be done by proxy, meaning a living person can stand in the place of, or be proxy for, one who is dead. The ordinances of baptism, endowment and sealing of families together for those who have died are done in LDS temples.

Contrary to some reports, Mormons do not baptize everyone. Members of the Mormon church are counseled to research their own ancestors and family members who have died without having ordinances done. They then submit these names to an LDS temple to have the work completed. They are instructed not to submit names for individuals who are not family members. They are also instructed to ask permission of the closest living relative for family members that have lived within the last 95 years.

Again, in contrast to some false information out there, Mormons do not believe that these ordinances automatically make someone "Mormon" on the other side. These ordinances are a gift, an offering, to family members that have passed on. Just as each person here in this life has the opportunity to accept or reject Jesus Christ, Mormons believe that each family member whose ordinance work is done will have the opportunity to accept it in their behalf or reject it. Names of people whose ordinances have been done are NOT added to the LDS membership records for this reason. Mormons believe strongly that every individual has been given the power to choose for themselves by God, and that will not be taken away.

Because of the beliefs that Mormons hold in regards to the importance of genealogy, every genealogist can benefit-whether they are members of the Mormon church or not. The LDS church has gone to tremendous lengths to index, catalog, and help preserve genealogical records all over the world. They are advocates for free sharing of this information, and they have a consistent and large-scale volunteer effort always underway in assisting everyone in their genealogical research. Whether you agree with their beliefs or not, the LDS church and their resources at their Family History Library, family history centers worldwide, and websites, can be extremely helpful in anyone's family history research.

9 comments:

upbothways said...

Very well said!

paularcalife said...

not a Mormon myself but love the idea of the family unit and all their memories transending life -makes perfect sense to me.

thats why I started arcalife dot com

Joy said...

Those who died having heard of Jesus and who consciously chose in life not to convert to Christianity would roll over in their graves if they knew they had been proxy baptized by the Mormons.

So would Catholics who were baptized into the Catholic Church during their lifetimes. The Catholic Church doesn't support or condone proxy baptism of deceased Catholics by the Mormons because they were already baptized into the Catholic Church.

Mormons have posthumously baptized many Jews, including Jews murdered in the Holocaust, despite periodic promises by Mormon leadership to put a halt to it. Nonetheless, some Mormons continued to perform these baptisms. As an example, Simon Wiesenthal, a Jewish survivor of the Nazi death camps, dedicated his life to documenting the crimes of the Holocaust and hunting down perpetrators who were still at large. Wiesenthal was born Jewish. Because he was Jewish, he was interned in concentration camps. Because they were Jewish, members of his family were murdered. Wiesenthal lived his whole life as a Jew, and, in 2005, died as a Jew. Yet, one year after his death, he was proxy baptized by a Mormon. Mr. Wiesenthal certainly knew about Jesus and about Mormonism and chose to remain Jewish. This matter is discussed on the JewishGen website at http://www.jewishgen.org/InfoFiles/ldsagree.html. The title is "The LDS Agreement. The Issue of The Mormon Baptisms of Jewish Holocaust Victims And Other Jewish Dead."

In 2003, the Armenian Church and the Russian Orthodox Church also stated their opposition to having their adherents posthumously baptized by Mormons.

Jessica Hall Grayless said...

Joy,

Thank you for sharing. While I appreciate your comments and viewpoint, I do not think anyone can say what those who have died would think about our proxy baptisms. If they know they still don't have to accept the baptism, it would be hard to see why they would "roll over in their graves" over it.

Yes, other Christian churches do not agree with our viewpoints on these ordinances. Some Christian churches, such as the Catholic church, vary with us on a multitude of doctrinal issues. Mormons believe differently about their proxy offerings, which is why they are not Catholic or Armenian or Russian Orthodox. Also, remember that we do these ordinances for those who are our ancestors, meaning we have a family link that we believe is as important as their church membership was while alive. We do not do proxy ordinances for just anyone. I personally do not believe that my ancestors who were members of other Christian churches or none at all would be offended by my love and concern for them by doing proxy ordinances. Even if they don't accept them, I can't see them being upset with me for having included them in my deeply held beliefs about family and eternity.

For a recent official statement from our church regarding Jewish Holocaust victims specifically, please see The Newsroom at the LDS Church's website.

Weekend Gourmet said...

I've seen this kind of discussion many times, but I think one crucial point always seems to be left out. If someone isn't Mormon, then they likely don't believe in the Mormon concept of God, or the Mormon concept of being saved, or that any of the beliefs, proxy ordinances or anything else a Mormon does actually holds any water.

If this is the case, then there should be no offense taken that someone regards someone else highly enough to include them in their sacred and special ordinances and belief system. I don't get upset when someone prays for me, or for my country. I don't get upset when someone says "God Bless You" or when they wish Allah to strengthen me. I am a Mormon Christian. I don't believe in the same concept of God that a Muslim does. However, when they wish good things on me I thank them and am thankful to have people around me that care for me whether we believe the same things or not.

I also don't believe in Voodoo. Should I get all upset if a neighbor wants to make a little doll of me and stick pins in it? Why would I care if I don't think their belief system has any bearing on my life or soul?

Respectfully, I think that those that get offended by these kinds of proxy ordinances should take a good hard look at why they care. Do they doubt their own beliefs? Do they think that just maybe the Mormons might be on to something and that bothers them? Are they looking to cause a stir just because they have something against the Mormon church? Can they seriously think that a person doesn't have the right to bestow blessings upon their own ancestor? If so, stifling religious freedoms and arguing about religious differences is a topic for another website. However, I'd have to question a person's motives, and perhaps sanity, if they seriously think that any of the proxy ordinances being done are short of spiritual, well-intended, respectable, Christ-centered activities being OFFERED to beloved ancestors.

Personally, I will continue to pray for those I care about, and likewise, continue to do the work for my ancestors. They will have the opportunity to accept or reject what I have done for them. God will sort out the rest.

Jennifer said...

Well said, Weekend Gourmet! This is what I have been saying for years. I am not Mormon. I am Catholic, and so were most of my ancestors on my father's side. Do I really mind if one of my distant cousins who is a converted member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints has decided to take my very staunch Catholic great-great-grandmother's name to be proxy baptized? No, I really don't mind, to be quite honest, because I don't really think it holds any water, as you say. This is why I was so upset when I heard last year that the Catholic church in Rome had told the local churches to be wary about letting the Genealogical Society of Utah in to microfilm their records. Why do they care? Let them microfilm the darn records so us Catholics who are interested in genealogy will have easier access to them. Geez! I'm just glad to finally have someone agree with me.

Joy said...

Jessica, you wrote "Also, remember that we do these ordinances for those who are our ancestors." "We do not do proxy ordinances for just anyone."

Mormons have also posthumously baptized people who are not their ancestors, such as Simon Wiesenthal (who I mentioned in my first post), Anne Frank, Pope John II, and several thousand others, whose names were taken from published lists of Holocaust dead.

You also wrote "For a recent official statement from our church regarding Jewish Holocaust victims specifically, please see The Newsroom at the LDS Church's website."

To see what led to this statement, please read "Jewish group wants Mormons to stop proxy baptisms" at http://www.jpost.com/servlet/Satellite?cid=1225910087233&pagename=JPost%2FJPArticle%2FShowFull .

Please, I beg you, also read "The Issue of The Mormon Baptisms of Jewish Holocaust Victims And Other Jewish Dead," which details the fourteen-year-long history of this problem, at http://www.jewishgen.org/InfoFiles/ldsagree.html .

Jessica Hall Grayless said...

Joy,

Once again, thank you for your comments. Although we do not agree, I appreciate your respectful tone and that you can disagree with me without attacking.

I do actually know the entire 14-year history behind the negotiations between this Jewish group and our church. I'm a member who is very interested in our church and its history, including its more recent history.

When I say that we do not baptize just anyone, please understand that this is the church guideline. I personally have always followed this guideline in doing genealogy work, and I know many other good members who do so, as well.

Having said that, our church now has over 13 million members worldwide. They are doing the best they can to deal with the issues that are caused by individual members being unaware of or disregarding the guidelines. However, the church and other faiths will never come to an agreement if that agreement means asking our church to stop proxy baptisms and other ordinance work. It is a very sacred and deeply held belief and practice in our religion, and that will not be changed.

I believe that the church does all it can to remove names from the lists of proxy work when it comes to their attention that these names have been submitted improperly. I believe it will continue to try and put in place future safeguards and utilize advances in technology to continue to address this sensitive issue in the future, but our beliefs about proxy work itself will not change.

At this point in technological time, there is no reasonable way for the Church to be able to screen and prevent millions of individual members from submitting unauthorized names. All they can do is to try and remove those names as they come to their attention after the fact, which I believe they had made a continual good-faith effort to do.

Believer said...

I am a nondenominational Christian and I don't believe in proxy baptism. That being said, My niece recently joined the Mormon Church. If proxy baptism of any of our relatives or even myself, when the time comes, gives her an added measure of peace, baptize to your heart's content, sweet child.