The Mormon Church reached an agreement with five major Jewish groups Friday to stop posthumous baptisms for victims of the Holocaust.
Baptizing for the dead is a central tenet of the Mormon Church, which believes the practice gives every spirit a chance to accept or reject baptism in the “true Church of Jesus Christ.”
Ernest W. Michel, chairman of the World Gathering of Jewish Holocaust Survivors, said the issue came to his group’s attention when a Jewish newspaper mentioned that a Jew killed in the Gurs, France, concentration camp had been baptized posthumously into the Mormon Church.
“I am a Holocaust survivor and I found my grandmother, uncles, aunts and friends had been baptized,” Michel said. “That, to me, I found totally unacceptable. I was incensed when I found out about it.”
The Mormon Church’s ruling three-member First Presidency directed members in March 1991 to stop baptizing Holocaust victims, but the ban was violated, said Elder Monte J. Brough, executive director of the Family History Department. He is a member of the Presidency of the Seventy, the governing body of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Several months of recent talks led to Friday’s agreement between the Mormon Church, Michel’s group, the United States Holocaust Memorial Council in Washington; A Living Memorial to the Holocaust-Museum of Jewish Heritage in New York City; the Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles; and Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial in Jerusalem.
The Mormon Church agreed to direct all of its officials and members to discontinue future baptisms of deceased Jews, except those who are ancestors of living church members or whose families give permission.