Mormon baptism for the dead is in the news again. Reaction is divided among those who are offended, those who aren’t and those who can’t be bothered one way or the other.
Baptism for the dead refers to our goal of proxy baptizing every form of life back to the evolutionary advent of mammals, including the likes of Genghis Khan, your great-grandma, Caligula, Gandhi and Richard Nixon.
Note: We have not yet baptized Java Man, but we are closing in. I’m not sure about Nixon. He could be on the “Do Not Dunk” list.
More people are choosing to put their ancestors on this list, fearing that it actually makes a difference what Mormons think we’re doing. They’d like everyone else to be offended as well.
Not everyone thinks that way. Some Hindus, for starters. Some were loudly annoyed that we had dunked Gandhi.
Ironically, Mahatma Gandhi’s grandson was in town earlier this week. When asked by KUTV’s Chris Jones what he thought of Mormons proxy baptizing his grandfather, Arun Gandhi smiled and shrugged it off.
“I can just imagine him sitting in heaven with us in front of God laughing and saying, ‘And now I’m also a Mormon,’ ” Arun said.
I’m not sure how this baptism for the dead is more offensive than the general religious practice of believing that everyone else is going to hell, but apparently it is. Maybe I only think that because I’m Mormon.
People can be fussy about their dead ancestors. I didn’t think I was until last Saturday when I asked Salt Lake City Cemetery sexton Mark Smith if I could troll a reality-show film crew through his turf.
As politely as he could, Mark told me to go to hell.
Not in those exact words, but it amounted to the same thing. He was nice. He said I could try going over his head, but as long as it was up to him, no would stay no.
“I’ll tell you why,” Mark said. “People entrust their loved ones to me and expect that I’ll protect them, and I take my job very seriously.”
Toward that end, there would be no zombie movies, frat party YouTube vids or reality-show idiots filming in the cemetery on his watch. Would I like teenage nitwits holding a séance on my great-grandmother’s grave?
I couldn’t argue with Mark. Not only would it have been a waste of time, but I happened to agree with him. Once that was settled, he took me on a tour of his job. He pointed out the final resting places of some of Utah’s most famous and infamous.
I have no idea how many of those people had been baptized for the dead. I considered asking Mark, but he was busy running off people who thought his cemetery was a good place to let their dogs run.
It was amazing how many of them there were. Ladies walking their dogs. Runners running with their dogs. People browsing headstones with dogs.
When it comes to disrespecting other people’s dead, well-intended proxy baptism has to be down the list a ways from letting your dog whiz on their graves.
I was soon annoyed and wanted the dogs shot. Mark said it wasn’t the fault of the dogs. After all, they couldn’t read the “No Dogs” signs at the cemetery entrances.
“OK, let’s shoot the owners,” I said. “We can baptize them later.”
Robert Kirby can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or facebook.com/notpatbagley.