Michael Nielsen had an excellent op-ed piece in the sltrib (26 Feb 2012) discussing the LDS Church’s obsession with doing ordinances for the dead. The subject has been in the news alot lately because of Jewish objections to proxy baptisms for Holocaust victims. According to Nielsen:
But what if things were different? What if our church devoted more of its resources toward helping the living, rather than fretting over the fate of the deceased? If eternity includes the active existence of the dead, there wouldn’t seem to be any great hurry needed to baptize them. Even in Mormon thought, as I understand it, baptisms and other rites can be conducted after the millennial return of Jesus. Why the rush? . . .
Were it up to me, the time, money, and other resources devoted to baptisms [for the dead] would be focused more on the problems of the living. Too often we drive by the destitute on our way to do temple work. We search geneology records for the names of someone not yet baptized, while a neighbor is going hungry. We worry ourselves about other people’s eternity, when it is their present that really needs our help.
I live part time in Uganda, in east-central Africa. Uganda is a small, landlocked country with a troubled past. It has a population of 30 million, which is almost 5 times the number of active Mormons in the world. Uganda has a long list of woes, including:
- its economy, infrastructure, and social structure were partially destroyed by a corrupt and evil Idi Amin;
- it was ground zero for the AIDS/HIV epidemic; and
- its northern region was recently decimated by a terrible civil war involving a despicable rebel group.
The vast majority of Ugandans live in dire poverty. I would love to see a greater effort go toward assisting our neighbors around the world who are alive today. The LDS Church has a very educated membership which could do wonders in helping to alleviate poverty.
Jacob in Times and Seasons defending baptisms for the dead writes:
. . . there are also seemingly well-meaning assessments of the practice of baptizing for the dead that are short-sighted and small-minded. To cite an example, Michael Nielsen’s recent op-ed in the Salt Lake Tribune notes the significant emphasis and considerable resources the Church utilizes in doing vicarious work for the dead–an emphasis and resources that might be better employed, he thinks, serving the present needs of living members and their communities. Vicarious ordinance work “keeps people involved, lends a sense of purpose and reinforces the beliefs promoted by the church [ . . . ] all of [which] helps to maintain the believers’ faith and their institutional commitment,” but ultimately it seems to distract from the more important work of attending to the concerns of the living. The institution, it seems, cannot adequately do both. . . .
For me the question is not whether the Church can do both. It is how money is allocated. The needs in the world are so great, that considerably more attention needs to be made to improving the human condition. And this is an important role for “Christ’s” Church.
To call Nielsen “short-sighted and small-minded” is an insult to members (and their neighbors) living in developing countries.