FAIR is a non-profit organization dedicated to providing well-documented answers to criticisms of the doctrine, practice, and history of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Opposition to baptism for the dead
Baptism for the dead
The temple endowment
Opposition to baptism for the dead
Question: Is temple work being performed for victims of the Jewish Holocaust and other prominent people?
It has been pointed out that baptisms for the dead have been performed in behalf of victims of the Shoah, the Jewish Holocaust, and that these baptisms continue to be performed despite repeated requests from the Jewish community to end the practice and remove all Jewish Holocaust names from the Church's genealogical records used for posthumous baptisms.
It has also been pointed out that baptisms for the dead have been performed for other prominent individuals, including Princess Diana, Albert Einstein, and Adolf Hitler.
These ordinances are performed contrary to Church policy. "Generally, Church members should not submit names to FamilySearch.org from the following groups:
- Famous people
- Names gathered from unapproved extraction projects
- Jewish Holocaust victims"
Exceptions are allowed if:
- "You are an immediate family member of the deceased (parent, spouse, child, or sibling).
- You have permission from all living immediate family members.
- If no immediate family members are alive, you have permission from the closest living relative."
Some Church members choose to ignore this policy and perform vicarious ordinances for these individuals. "When the church is made aware of documented concerns, action is taken" to remove those ordinances from Church records.
While work toward the complete removal of all Holocaust victims' names from the Church's database continues, controversy and frustration may well continue to surface. It is important to remember that progress has been made, and that as temple approval safeguards become more sophisticated, one can hope that misguided individuals will be much less able to violate the agreement.
Those of the Jewish faith are to be commended for the spirit of dialogue and cooperation in which they have approached this matter, and their willingness to work with the Church to solve it.
There have also been some moving expressions of friendship between Mormons and Jews; some Jewish authors have pointed out that belief and theology matter much less than behavior and brotherhood, and on this score Mormon-Jewish relations have always been excellent.
History of the practice
In 1995—after it was learned that a substantial number of Holocaust victims were listed in the Church's temple records as having been baptized—an agreement was signed between the Church and leading Jewish authorities which officially ended baptizing Jewish Holocaust victims posthumously.
Controversy over the matter flared again in 2002 when it was found that there was still thousands of Holocaust victims’ names in the Church's records. The Church responded by re-enforcing its policy for temple work, which requires that members only perform proxy baptisms for ancestors to whom they can demonstrate a familial link. Furthermore, the Church established a committee with Jewish leaders to investigate why the names of Holocaust victims remained in the database.
More concern was expressed in 2006, when it was discovered that there were still many Holocaust victims' names in the database.
Mistakes in the database
Despite critics' claims, fingers should not be pointed at the institutional Church in this instance. Instead, the fault lies with a few misguided members, who took active steps to circumvent the Church’s policies:
Gary Mokotoff [...] who will head the Jewish side of the joint commission, said that individual church members had managed to circumvent the current monitoring process by misspelling names. "There's guaranteed to be a trickle going through the screen," he said, "but it's been very embarrassing for the Mormons." Mike Otterson, director of media relations for the church, told the Post that the church was working on creating a mechanism to prevent "overzealous members" from violating the agreement.
Counsel of LDS leaders
Church general authorities have asked members to concentrate on completing the work for their own ancestors. Elder Russell M. Nelson of the Quorum of the Twelve taught:
Here, on this side of the veil, there are limitations of available time and temples. This means that choosing to identify and perform ordinances for our own kindred should receive our highest priority. The Spirit of Elijah will inspire individual members of the Church to link their generations, rather than submit lists of people or popular personalities to whom they are unrelated. Now, we are mindful of those not of our faith who are concerned about or even offended by the practice of temple ordinances for the dead. To them we say, our Heavenly Father directed the restoration of keys of priesthood authority and surely intended no offense to any of His children. Quite to the contrary. He intended to bless them. This doctrine and its ordinances are laden with love and are intended to perpetuate the sweetest of all relationships — in families forever.
Nevertheless, the Church is sensitive to these concerns. The First Presidency has asked that, as far as possible, individual rights of privacy be protected. In 1972, they wrote, "Persons submitting names for other than direct ancestors [should] have obtained approval from the closest living relative of the deceased before submitting records of persons born within the last ninety-five years." In addition, reminders of rights of precedence and privacy appear each time our computer programs are used.
Question: What can I do to "undo" proxy baptisms and temple work?
In the case of individuals who have recently died, members are encouraged to be considerate of the feelings of the closest living relatives
I don't want proxy baptisms or other LDS temple work performed for my deceased family. What can I do to "undo" such baptisms and temple work?
In the case of individuals who have recently died, members are encouraged to be considerate of the feelings of the closest living relatives:
If the person was born within the last  years, obtain permission for the ordinances from the person’s closest living relative. This relative often wishes to receive the ordinances in behalf of the deceased or designate someone to receive them. In some instances, the relative may wish to postpone the performance of the ordinances. Also, be aware that acting in conflict with the wishes of the closest living relative can result in bad feelings toward you and the Church.
In Mormon ritual and practice, such a baptism does not in and of itself have any efficacy unless and until it is accepted by the person on whose behalf the ordinance is performed
There is no ceremony for "undoing" a proxy baptism for the dead
In Mormon ritual and practice, such a baptism does not in and of itself have any efficacy unless and until it is accepted by the person on whose behalf the ordinance is performed. We believe in complete freedom of the will even in the hereafter. Therefore, if the person for whom the ordinance is performed does not choose to accept it, the ordinance is meaningless. Baptisms for the dead are not understood in the same sense as convert baptisms for the living.
Thus, vicarious baptism is completely meaningless unless a deceased person accepts that baptism. An unaccepted baptism no more makes a deceased person a "Mormon" than a rejected invitation to join the Church does.
Non-members who do not believe that the Church is true have nothing to fear. If the Church is false, then members are simply wasting their time, and have no influence whatsoever on the state of the dead. If the Church is true, such baptisms may still have no affect on the dead, if the dead choose not to accept them. LDS do not believe that performing a baptism for the dead automatically makes them Mormon.
- Jordan Teicher and Richa Naik, "Here Are 10 Famous People Posthumously Baptized By Mormons," Business Insider, 2 Mar 2012 (accessed 7 Nov 2023).
- "126.96.36.199 Submitting the Names of Celebrities and Unauthorized Groups," General Handbook: Serving in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (accessed 7 Nov 2023).
- "Can I do temple work for victims of the Jewish Holocaust?" FamilySearch.org, 25 Sep 2023 (accessed 7 Nov 2023; requires a FamilySearch account to view).
- D. Todd Christofferson, in Ian Urbina, "Again, Jews Fault Mormons Over Posthumous Baptisms," The New York Times, 21 Dec 2003 (accessed 7 Nov 2023).
- Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, "The Mormons are Jews' brothers," Deseret Morning News (30 December 2003).
- Jerusalem Post, "Jews and Mormons tackle 'proxy baptism' controversy," jpost.com (accessed 2 June 2006).
- Russell M. Nelson, "The Spirit Of Elijah," Ensign (November 1994), 84.
- The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, “Step 2: Find Out Which Ancestors Need Temple Ordinances,” A Member’s Guide to Temple and Family History Work: Ordinances and Covenants (Salt Lake City, Utah: Intellectual Reserve, Inc., 1993), 13.