When a story is picked up by both television and Internet news outlets it's a pretty good indicator that people are talking about it and/or are interested in the subject, or that the media know they have a story they can exploit for various reasons.  The subject of Mormon baptism for the dead, also referred to as proxy baptism -- an unusual doctrine for those outside The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints -- is admittedly one of our most peculiar practices to initially explain. Though for Mormons, who understand the importance of baptism as the necessary ordinance for every person who desires to enter into the kingdom of God, it is one of the great witnesses that the restored gospel of Jesus Christ is upon the earth. Mormons believe that God's plan for the salvation of His children, as proclaimed in scripture, teach that everyone must be baptized in order to be saved. Through the ordinance and covenant of baptism we witness that we accept Jesus Christ as our Savior and Redeemer.

Baptism is a commandment.

"Jesus answered, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. (John 3:5)

“Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:19–20).

Why baptism?

Then Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost. (Acts 2:38)

Baptism for the dead was a known practice during early Christianity.

"Else what shall they do which are baptized for the dead, if the dead rise not at all? why are they then baptized for the dead? (1Cor 15:29)

We baptize our deceased ancestors because we believe that they will rise again!

To members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints it makes complete sense that if God has commanded that we must all be baptized, even though the majority of His children would never hear the gospel of Jesus Christ during their lifetime, then surely a loving God would have provided a way for them to receive this saving ordinance. We believe that this is done through the process of baptism for the dead by proxy.

I've often wondered how Christians, of other denominations, reconcile a belief that the majority of God's children, for the mere fact that they did not have the opportunity to hear the gospel of Jesus Christ in this life, are damned to hell for not receiving the ordinance of baptism. Personally I can't relate to a God who would not have made accommodation for all of His children. Through modern revelation we learn the extent of God's love for us.
"For behold, this is my work and my glory—to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man." (Moses 1:39) 
I suppose that at first thought, if one is not familiar with this practice, visions of Mormons digging up dead bodies and baptizing them in our temples might come to mind.  Seriously?  Thankfully that's not how we do it.  Through genealogical research Mormons indentify the names of deceased family members, who never had the chance to be baptize in this life, and then serve as proxy on their behalf to have them baptized.  Baptisms for the dead are performed in LDS temples. This process does not then make the deceased Mormon. We believe that once a proxy ordinance is done for a person who has died they are given the opportunity to either accept or reject the baptism. Although some members have had spiritual experiences confirming to them that a proxy baptism was accepted, most of the time the end result is not known.

For those who might struggle with the concept of one person doing for another, that which they are not able to do for themselves, consider the greatest vicarious work of all -- the Atonement of Jesus Christ. The work that is done in LDS temples, for those who are deceased, is done in similitude of what Jesus Christ did for each one of us. He has invited us to partake in His work by helping to bring to pass the salvation of our brothers and sisters, through acting as proxy. This ensures that necessary earthly ordinances are ultimately performed for every child of God -- ever born.

Gordon B. Hinckley had this to say about vicarious work for the dead...
“I think that vicarious work for the dead more nearly approaches the vicarious sacrifice of the Savior Himself than any other work of which I know. It is given with love, without hope of compensation, or repayment or anything of the kind. What a glorious principle.”

Scriptural evidence proclaims that every person born must accept that Jesus is the Christ: 

From Old Testament - 
20 ¶Assemble yourselves and come; draw near together, ye that are escaped of the nations: they have no knowledge that set up the wood of their graven image, and pray unto a god that cannot save. 
21 Tell ye, and bring them near; yea, let them take counsel together: who hath declared this from ancient time? who hath told it from that time? have not I the Lord? and there is no God else beside me; a just God and a Saviour; there is none beside me. 
22 Look unto me, and be ye saved, all the ends of the earth: for I am God, and there is none else. 
23 I have sworn by myself, the word is gone out of my mouth in righteousness, and shall not return, That unto me every knee shall bow, every tongue shall swear
24 Surely, shall one say, in the Lord have I righteousness and strength: even to him shall men come; and all that are incensed against him shall be ashamed. 
25 In the Lord shall all the seed of Israel be justified, and shall glory. (Isaiah 45:20-25
In The Book of Mormon Alma the younger, also a prophet of God, bears a strong witness that all men must be born again to gain salvation.
29 My soul hath been redeemed from the gall of bitterness and bonds of iniquity. I was in the darkest abyss; but now I behold the marvelous light of God. My soul was racked with eternal torment; but I am snatched, and my soul is pained no more. 
30 I rejected my Redeemer, and denied that which had been spoken of by our fathers; but now that they may foresee that he will come, and that he remembereth every creature of his creating, he will make himself manifest unto all
31 Yea, every knee shall bow, and every tongue confess before him. Yea, even at the last day, when all men shall stand to be judged of him, then shall they confess that he is God; then shall they confess, who live without God in the world, that the judgment of an everlasting punishment is just upon them; and they shall quake, and tremble, and shrink beneath the glance of his all-searching eye. (Mosiah 27:29-31)
The prophet Joseph Smith, through modern revelation, confirmed this same doctrine and how it will be  applied at the Second Coming of Jesus Christ:
"And this shall be the sound of his trump, saying to all people, both in heaven and in earth, and that are under the earth—for every ear shall hear it, and every knee shall bow, and every tongue shall confess, while they hear the sound of the trump, saying: Fear God, and give glory to him who sitteth upon the throne, forever and ever; for the hour of his judgment is come." (D&C 88:104
There is no greater witness -- nor is there any other way -- to accept Jesus Christ as Savior and Redeemer than to keep His commandment and law to be baptized in His name.  The Day will come when every child of God will have heard His voice, bowed in submission to it, and confessed through receiving this ordinance that Jesus is the Christ -- fulfilling the words of His holy prophets! Be it on this side of the veil or in the afterlife, the Way has been prepared for all men to receive Jesus Christ and gain salvation.

For me personally, the doctrine of vicarious baptism for our deceased ancestors is one of the great witnesses that Joseph Smith is a true prophet of God and that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is His Church upon the earth today. No other Christian organization upon the earth proclaims such a vast undertaking to ensure the salvation of all of God's children, nor does even one begin to address Paul's teachings in the Bible of vicarious baptism.

The reason Mormons perform proxy baptism for our deceased ancestors is because this is the way that God makes manifest His love for all of His children and ensures their safe return home to His presence. How grateful we are, as members of His Church, to have a part in this great work for the salvation of every child of God!

Video: Why Mormons Build Temples

Kathryn Skaggs

2/23/12 Update:

On Faith: What baptism for the dead means to Mormons by Michael Otterson

"Toward the end of May, 1970, I stood waist high in water in a baptismal font of a temple in Hamilton, New Zealand, while the name of my deceased father was read aloud. Moments later, on his behalf, I was buried in the biblically mandated full-immersion baptism that is so powerfully symbolic of rebirth and entry into the kingdom of God.

That first visit to a temple of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints --and my first experience of what Mormons call “baptism for the dead”--was one of the most intensely significant religious experiences of my life."
2/21/12 Update:  Church Statement on Violations of Proxy Baptism Policy

"In response to questions about violations of the Church's proxy baptism policy, the Church issued the following statement:
The Church keeps its word and is absolutely firm in its commitment to not accept the names of Holocaust victims for proxy baptism.

It takes a good deal of deception and manipulation to get an improper submission through the safeguards we have put in place.

While no system is foolproof in preventing the handful of individuals who are determined to falsify submissions we are committed to taking action against individual abusers by suspending the submitter’s access privileges. We will also consider whether other Church disciplinary action should be taken.

It is distressing when an individual willfully violates the Church’s policy and something that should be understood to be an offering based on love and respect becomes a source of contention. "

LDS Newsroom: Background Explanation of Temple Baptism

"For nearly 180 years, members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints have performed baptisms in Church temples on behalf of deceased relatives. The practice is rooted in the belief that certain sacred sacraments, such as baptism, are required to enter the kingdom of heaven and that a just God will give everyone who ever lived a fair opportunity to receive them, whether in this life or the next. Church members who perform temple baptisms for their deceased relatives are motivated by love and sincere concern for the welfare of all of God’s children. According to Church doctrine, a departed soul in the afterlife is completely free to accept or reject such a baptism — the offering is freely given and must be freely received. The Church has never claimed the power to force deceased persons to become Church members or Mormons, and it does not list them as such on its records. The notion of coerced conversion is utterly contrary to Church doctrine."

Mormon.org: Why do Mormons perform proxy baptisms in their temples?

"Jesus Christ taught that baptism is essential to the salvation of all who have lived on earth (see John3:5). Many people, however, have died without being baptized. Others were baptized without proper authority. Because God is merciful, He has prepared a way for all people to receive the blessings of baptism. By performing proxy baptisms in behalf of those who have died, Church members offer these blessings to deceased ancestors. These individuals in the next life can then choose to accept or decline what has been done in their behalf."

Why Do We Baptize for the Dead? BY ELDER D. TODD CHRISTOFFERSON

"Christian theologians have long wrestled with the question, What is the destiny of the billions who have lived and died with no knowledge of Jesus? With the Restoration of the gospel of Jesus Christ has come the understanding of how the unbaptized dead are redeemed and how God can be “a perfect, just God, and a merciful God also” (Alma 42:15)."

Why Are Mormons Performing Baptisms For Dead People? McKay Coppin

"The discovery this week of a proposed posthumous baptism for Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel — who is alive — has revived a longstanding controversy surrounding the Mormon Church's practice of performing "saving ordinances" on behalf of its members' non-Mormons ancestors.

After The Huffington Post broke the story, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints moved quickly to assure Wiesel that it wouldn't allow a baptism—before or after his death. But the incident had already dragged Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney into an escalating, semi-informed debate that's bobbed in and out of public consciousness for nearly two decades."

Posthumous Baptisms of Holocaust Victims Daniel Peterson

"An article has appeared on The Daily Beast (and may perhaps yet appear in its printed companion, Newsweek), about vicarious Latter-day Saint baptisms for Jewish Holocaust survivors, a controversial topic that has arisen yet again.

I was interviewed for the article.

There are several things in it on which I could comment, but, owing to lack of time and reader patience, I think I’ll restrict myself to just a few:"

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