“You were right!” I announced as I approached the bench. Without stopping I continued talking as I walked past. “And I got the answer to my question. Come on and I’ll tell you about it in the car.”
My husband took one last draw on his cigarette, closed the brochure he’d been reading, then slowly rose to follow me. As we buckled ourselves inside the car, he tossed the brochure on the console and told me that I’d definitely need to read it later.
“You won’t believe some of the stuff that’s in there,” he stated.
“I was the only tourist in there at first,” I said. “This older gentleman and his wife were answering questions. They belong to the Community of Christ Church. It has the same history as the Mormons up until Joseph Smith died. Their church was started by the descendants that stayed in Nauvoo. The ones that moved West into Utah are Mormons. ”
My husband, who is better read than me, nodded his head and added a few more details to my comments.
“You were right about the heavens,” I nodded. “There are three of them. They called them the degrees of glory. Apparently, there are different requirements to enter into each heaven and they are hierarchical. They confirmed the magic underwear thing, but they don’t call it that, of course. They call them garments. The couple told me a story about how when the mob pulled Joseph Smith and his followers out of that jail in Carthage and assassinated them…that one of the guys lived through it. He was the only one wearing his special underwear and he credited it with saving his life. Then the wife wandered off and I ended up just talking with the old guy for a while. He was very helpful and pointed out that Icarians and Germans and one other group had populated the area during their history. The Icarians were there from 1840 to 1860. They were a group looking for utopia but they weren’t religious. Oh, I also asked about the Mormon Garden of Eden in Missouri but he just looked at me funny like I’d asked one question too many. Some other folks came in just then so I thanked him for his time and scurried on out here. I figured it was time to go anyway.”
“Yeah, I got a text just before you came out. She’s on her way home now. We should get going.”
I started up the car and headed out. “But this is the part I really didn’t expect to learn. You remember telling me about the ruckus that happened not long ago about the baptisms?”
My husband nodded. He’d been sharing his knowledge of the Mormon religion since we’d decided to take the route to Nauvoo. It was a Wednesday afternoon in October and we’d been enjoying the drive, admiring the changing foliage of the trees and relaxing in the mild fall temperatures. When we received a text that our host would be late getting home, we had decided to kill some time by taking the river route and engaging in some late season tourism. As I drove along he’d told me the story about the lawsuit against the Mormons over the baptism of dead Jews. Back on the road again, I shared more of what I’d just learned from the tour guide and his wife.
“Now here’s the really cool thing,” I smiled. “Remember me asking the geneology question? You remember, I was wondering why the Mormons are behind so many of the geneology websites and search centers? Turns out the baptisms and the geneology is related! It makes sense now but I had never put it together. They aren’t just interested in learning about their dead family members out of curiosity (like me). They have a much bigger purpose. They are interested in everyone’s dead ancestors because they do baptize non-Mormons into the Mormon faith after they die.”
“But what’s the point?” my husband queried. “Why do they care about that?”
“I don’t really understand the whole thing,” I responded. “I just know that the older couple mentioned that it was important to the Mormons to have big families and that a Mormon man would desire to “seal” as many of his family members as possible. I guess its kind of a status thing…and probably a competition as well since a man’s son would probably want to have his own seal and I don’t think you can split the same soul between seals….maybe it has something to do with which heaven you get into…”
“So how do you baptize a dead person?” my husband wondered aloud.
“They said that it would be like me standing in and taking the baptism in place of someone else. So if I were a Mormon and I wanted to baptize my dead Baptist great-uncle, I could just go through the ceremony in his name. The older couple said that teens often come to the temple to stand in for the baptisms –something to do with gaining status, so to speak.”
“Sounds creepy though…you wouldn’t have your great-uncle’s consent,” my husband concluded. “Doesn’t that just sound wrong?”
“Yeah, to you and me…obviously not to the Mormons. I find it disappointing too,” I added. “I had envisioned the whole thing as being the result of some Mormon individual inspiring her church leaders to preserve individual history out of respect and memory, sort of like a memorial to those souls that lived before us. Finding out that it’s really due to a practice of snatching dead souls kind of dulls the enthusiasm for me.”
“Didn’t you send them some money once?” he asked.
“Yeah, they run that website called find-a-grave. Volunteers walk graveyards, snap photos of headstones, and enter obituaries onto their website. It’s actually quite a nice way to remember those who have passed. The stones help verify birth and death and sometimes marriage dates as well. The website has been very helpful in some of my geneology searches. I sent $5 each to claim editorial rights over Mom and Dad’s page. I entered some photos and wrote a memorial I felt would be more representative of their lives than their obituary provided. I should probably do it for your parents too, but you’d have to help me write it.”
My husband was silent and appeared to be lost in thought.
“What do you think?” I asked.
“I think we need to do more research. Can you look some of this stuff up when we get home?”
“Yep, I’ll check out their websites and whatever else I can find. And I’d like to go back to Nauvoo sometime and spend some real time there. I’d like to see that research center. They said I could do some actual geneology searches there.”
- 101 Insane, Crazy and Secretive Beliefs of Mormons (theageofblasphemy.wordpress.com)