Abhorrent practice

Abhorrent practice

Because we are a minority community that understands what it means to be hated for our faith, we cherish the freedom of religion this nation offers. With this right as a shield, we have thrived here in ways unparalleled in Jewish history. As such, we must never attack a candidate for public office at any level because he or she belongs to another faith. We must respect and protect the faiths of others, even as we expect them to respect and protect ours.

So it goes against everything we cherish to condemn another faith’s practice. Yet we must condemn a practice of the The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints – in other words, a practice of the Mormon church. What makes doing so even more difficult is that any attack on the Mormon church may be perceived as a backhanded attack on Mitt Romney, who is a church leader as well as a presidential hopeful.

Specifically, we condemn the church’s loathsome practice of baptizing by proxy people who died – especially if those people are Jews who perished in the Shoah.

Nearly two decades ago, a former church member revealed this outrage to the world. It was not only Jews whom the church “baptized” posthumously, and among the Jews it was not only Shoah survivors. The dead of every faith were eligible for this act of Mormon “grace.”

Some of what we learned then was even comical. Maimonides, for example, was posthumously baptized. The Rambam, as he is better known among us, was converted to Mormonism 800 years after he died. It is laughable.

Not laughable, however, are the posthumous baptisms of the victims of Adolf Hitler’s extermination policy. (That the Mormons also baptized Hitler, making him one with his victims, rises to an otherwise unimaginable level of abhorrent behavior.)

Presumably, the church stopped this practice in 1995, at least when it came to Jews and provided these Jews did not have living relatives who were Mormon. That is what it promised. Every few years, however, information surfaces that calls into question the church’s sincerity. In 2008, for example, the American Gathering of Holocaust Survivors accused it of repeatedly going back on its word.

In 2010, the church reaffirmed its 1995 promise. Now comes word that the Mormon church last month posthumously baptized the parents of the late Nazi hunter Simon Wiesenthal.

“I think it’s scandalous. Not only objectionable, it’s scandalous,” Elie Wiesel said this week of the practice.

On Monday, the church said that it “sincerely regret[s]” the proxy baptisms of Wiesenthal’s kin, but took no responsibility for them. Instead, it blamed the baptisms on “an individual member” who acted “clearly against the policy of the church.”

The only thing that is clear is that the church created the problem when it adopted proxy baptism of the dead and that the problem will not go away until the church ends the practice once and for all.

As for Mitt Romney being a Mormon, that should not enter into anyone’s thinking in deciding whether to support his candidacy. On the other hand, that he admits to having “participated” in proxy baptisms when he served as a bishop of the church should give us pause.

On Tuesday, Elie Wiesel called on Romney to come out publicly and unequivocally against the practice. We echo Wiesel’s call, but go one step further: We urge Romney’s supporters in the Jewish community to let him know that how they respond to him in the future depends on how he responds to Wiesel in the present.