SALT LAKE CITY (ABC 4 News) - They say the talking is over and they are not happy. Members of the American Gathering of Holocaust Survivors say they are done negotiating with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints about baptism for the dead. The group denounced the LDS Church and its policy on Monday during news conference on 70th anniversary of Kristallnacht, the Nazi-incited riots against Jews.
Ernest Michel, honorary chairman of the American Gathering of Holocaust Survivors, said talks with LDS leaders are over. "We do not ask for, or want your love," Michel's prepared message to Mormon leaders read. "We ask you to respect us and our Judaism just as we respect your religion. We ask you to leave our six million Jews, all victims of the Holocaust, alone, they suffered enough."
Michel accused the Church of not keeping its word in preventing Holocaust victims from being submitted to the its genealogical database and demanded the Church, “Undo what has been done.”
“The LDS Church has been true to its word,” said Elder Lance B. Wickman of the First Quorum of Seventy, “We have done everything that we said we would do.” It is in reference to a Memorandum of Understanding with Jewish leaders made in 1995 where the Church agreed not to posthumously baptize Holocaust victims unless they are descendants of LDS members.
Elder Wickman said in the past 14 years the Church has removed 43,000 Holocaust victim's names from the Church's genealogical database. “42,000 of those were identified by the Church,” he said.
William Tumpowski, President of the United Jewish Federation of Utah believes a dialogue with the LDS Church should be kept open. “You do not do that by passing a blanket statement, ‘We stop taking,’ that's the end of conversation. I don't believe that's appropriate.”
However, Tumpowski also believes more should be done to prevent Holocaust victims from ending up in the LDS Church's database. “It is unacceptable to have posthumous baptisms of Holocaust victims.” He said the issue of the Holocaust and those who died are held sacred in the Jewish community just as ordinances in LDS temples are sacred to Mormons. “The prospect of them being used for other purposes, for other religious motivations is a source of discomfort.”
Elder Wickman said about the ordinance of baptism for the dead; “Our work is akin to offering a prayer for someone. When the prayer is offered of someone else’s faith doesn’t change the background or life story for whom it’s offered… They are not baptized into our church… ours is an offering of love to be freely accepted or rejected by those who live beyond the veil… We would not want our doctrine to be thought of in any way as an infringement upon dishonoring the lives of those who perished in the Holocaust.”
The LDS Church has removed 260,000 names since 1995. In 2005 an independent researcher claimed to have found resubmissions and new entries of Holocaust victims to the database. Church officials say a new version of the database – called: New Family Search - will prevent the names of Holocaust victims from being added to the new database in the future.
LDS Church Statement on Jewish Baptisms for the Dead
Leaders of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are very disappointed over statements made in a media advisory from Mr. Ernest Michel, honorary chairman of the American Gathering of Holocaust Survivors. The advisory announced a press event on Monday, 10 November, in New York.
The Church stands by its word. It has no intention of performing baptisms or other rites in its temples for Holocaust victims, except in the very rare instances where such people may have living descendants who are members of the Church. Such exceptions were noted and agreed to in 1995. The understanding reached in 1995 determined that the Church would remove Holocaust names from its public database immediately, which the Church has done. It further said that Jewish groups would provide to the Church any names that reappeared on the database so the Church could remove them. The Church cannot understand why Mr. Michel has refused now to provide those names to the Church so the Church can maintain the spirit of that 1995 understanding.
The media advisory also claimed that Church leaders had refused to meet and “broke off negotiations in July. “ This is absolutely false. Church leaders met with Mr. Michel in New York on 3 November, along with representatives of other respected Jewish community organizations. The Church’s written response to Mr. Michel and to that meeting is found here. It did not receive a reply.
Church leaders and members empathize with the depth of feeling of all Jews regarding the Holocaust. Such regard and empathy have motivated the Church to remain in talks about this subject for so many years. However, with his press conference, Mr. Michel seems to have unilaterally terminated those discussions and has presumably rejected the proposals set forth in the Church’s 6 November 2008 letter. Those steps by Mr. Michel on behalf of the American Gathering were both unnecessary and unfortunate, and belie the long and valued mutual regard that has existed in the past years.
----Information from: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints