I know it may sound creepy to you, but really it is mercy at its finest. As a practicing Mormon, baptizing for the dead is something that I have participated in, and I can honestly say that it is a beautiful thing.
We don't expect other people to understand. It's not really surprising to us Mormons that the media has been using the practice as a way to criticize the church. In fact we expect this to happen. Believers have expected such ever since the days of the Savior himself. Look at how they mocked the Savior of mankind. Don't you think that the mainstream will be mocking his followers still today? When my church is mocked, I actually accept that as further evidence of its truthfulness.
Go here for the church's explanation of baptizing for the dead, but I would like to take just a minute to explain the practice of baptism for the dead from my own perspective.
Three doctrines that must be understood to even begin to wrap your mind around this practice are:
1- We believe that we are eternal spiritual beings having a most vital mortal experience. We lived with God as spirit children before we were born on this earth and our whole goal and purpose of this earth life should be to prove ourselves worthy to live with him again someday.
2- Our eternal glory is tethered to how we act on this earth. It is vital for our eternal salvation that we be baptized (as Christ was to show us the way.)
3- It takes a body to exercise our true God given agency and that is the purpose of this life, for our spirit to prevail over our body that is vulnerable to mortal temptation.
So, essentially, you were a spirit child of God that was sent to earth as a testing ground. You are given commandments from God to 1- assist you in your journey and 2- to prove your faithfulness.
Baptism happens to be a vital "must-accomplish" commandment in order to enter into the kingdom of God.
Christ taught in John 3:5 "Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God while in our mortal tabernacle of flesh."
The next obvious question is, "What about the people who never heard of this commandment of baptism, how is that fair for them in the next life?"
This is where baptisms for the dead comes in. The practice of baptism for the dead is for these very people. Worthy mortal beings can act in proxy for those who are without their bodies. (Because it takes a body to baptize and to make that choice).
I sometimes wonder if people think we go around digging up dead people to baptize them. The answer is NO. That would be creepy. We just get baptized in name only for those who have died and God has worked it out somehow that this practice counts as real baptism in their behalf.
Another thing that needs to be understood. It is our belief that as members of Christ's church that this our responsibility, to provide salvation for all mankind. That is why we have different missions in our church. We perfect the Saints for our own salvation, we proclaim the gospel for the salvation of the living among us, and we perform temple work for the salvation of those who have gone on before.
Our beliefs drive our actions. In the temple, we don't just baptize people for the dead, but we also, in proxy, provide the sealing ordinance (which is required for families to live together forever). We do this because we do not want to deny anyone from the blessings that God has so abundantly shared with us. With greater wisdom comes greater responsibility. We also do it because we believe that there will still be a chance in the next life for those who have never heard the truth on earth or who are repentant from their disbelief (to a degree I don't understand).
We believe it is impossible for a man to be saved in ignorance, therefore as a merciful God, Heavenly Father will give all his children as many chances as it takes for them to be taught before the final judgement, which means that he will give all his children the same opportunity. (This last sentence is making me laugh because I guess in this way God is more of a Democrat than a Republican).
For those of you who are still confused. Consider this verse in the New Testament.
1 Corinthians 15:29I love this verse as it is such a testament to what those who have the Bible alone are missing. This is the only time that baptism for the dead is mentioned in the New Testament and it leaves one to wonder why Christ would not have taught more about this for those that follow the Bible alone. What if he did teach more and you are just missing it because in the many many translations of the Bible parts went missing? What if the only way to have ALL of God's practices is through modern revelation or further scripture? These are areas of question that my religion can also answer.
Else what shall they do which are baptized for the dead, if the dead rise not at all? Why are they baptized for the dead?
We believe that baptism for the dead was a practice in the ancient church also. And apparently so do other Christian scholars.
The thing that has been making a lot of fuss in the news lately is Jewish people were upset that this work was done for victims of the Holocaust. They wanted the work abolished all together. I think it was very very classy of our church leaders to go ahead and erase the work that had been done in order to satisfy the Jews' insistence that their ancestors don't need it nor do they want it. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints clearly bowed out in order to be at peace with the Jews.
It is and always has been our stance the we do the work as called to do and that the deceased will have the option of accepting or denying that work for themselves from the spirit world. Therefore, we aren't forcing the work on anyone including the victims of the Holocaust.
I have done this work for many people and I can honestly say that I had some amazing spiritual experiences that let me know that the people accepted the work on the other side. Sometimes I don't experience anything and I am left to assume that these people didn't want the work to be done.
Now that you understand baptism for the dead and a little more about the work done in the temple, you will also understand why The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is known throughout the world for having the most extensive genealogy library and database ever. Yes, as members of the church we seek out our dead. We trace back our family lines as far back as we possibly can: preferably all the way back to Adam and Eve. We want to know of every living person who ever lived on the earth and it is our goal to provide the gospel for every single one before the earth is destroyed and sanctified by fire.
We daily fulfill the prophecy in Malachi 4:5-6
Behold I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord. And he shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children and the heart of the children to their fathers, lest I come and smite the earth with a curse.I could go on all day, but I will stop there. I hope this helped you understand my religious practices a little better. I am sure that some haters out there will leave their opposition in the comment section, but I invite those of you with further questions to feel free and ask away or click on over to mormon.org.
And if you are extra curious, I would love to mail you your own copy of The Book of Mormon, just send me your name and address via e-mail or FB message.