Obama's mother posthumously baptized into LDS Church

Religion » Spokesman says it's 'counter to Church policy.'
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President Barack Obama's mother, Stanley Ann Dunham, who died in 1995, was baptized posthumously into The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints last year during her son's campaign, according to Salt Lake City-based researcher Helen Radkey.

The ritual, known as “baptism for the dead,” was done June 4 in the Provo temple, and another LDS temple rite, known as the “endowment,” was performed in the same temple on June 11, said Radkey, who found the record while doing research in the LDS Family History Library in Salt Lake City.

“The LDS Church is walking a fine line when the mother of our very special president has been posthumously baptized and endowed in a Utah temple,” she said. “It sends out the message that the religion she chose while she was alive was not good enough. And that spills onto her son, who is our president.”

LDS Church spokesman Scott Trotter confirmed that someone did perform a proxy baptism for Dunham, but said it was “counter to [LDS] Church policy for a church member to submit names for baptism for persons to whom they are not related.”

LDS officials are looking into how this happened and do not yet have all the facts, Trotter said. “However, this is a serious matter and we are treating it as such.”

Mormons do proxy baptism because they believe 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.

The church teaches that those 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 LDS doctrine, the offering is freely given and must be freely received.

Such proxy baptisms are nothing more than a way to give people in the spirit world a chance to reject or accept the gospel, Elder Lance Wickman, a member of the church's First Quorum of Seventy, said in November.

The baptism doesn't cancel out a person's “life story,” Wickman said.

Still, the practice has prompted ongoing conflicts with various religious groups that object to such baptisms. Beginning in 1995, Jewish organizations complained about proxy baptisms of Holocaust victims. In response, Wickman said, the church removed 260,000 names of victims submitted to its International Genealogical Index.

Since then, he said 43,000 additional names -- 42,000 of them identified by the church -- had made their way into the system, only to be removed. Wickman called this “persuasive evidence” that the church was doing all it could to uphold its end of the deal.

Early last year, the Vatican called LDS baptisms for the dead a “detrimental practice” and directed each Catholic diocesan bishop “not to cooperate with the erroneous practices of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.”

It is not yet clear whether Obama is troubled by the practice. The White House declined to comment Tuesday.

Tribune reporter Thomas Burr contributed to this report.