Keepapitchinin, the Mormon History blog » A Phone Call to Jan Shipps

A Phone Call to Jan Shipps

By: Ardis E. Parshall - August 18, 2009

Jan Shipps, the “insider-outsider,” the emeritus professor of history and religious studies at Indiana University, has been spending the past few weeks in Salt Lake City, sponsored by her Mellon Foundation fellowship, working on her book about developments in Mormonism since the end of World War II. She’s been a lot of fun to listen to when she needs a break from poring over the records, when she starts telling stories from her nearly 50-year career as a Methodist studying Mormonism. The following is repeated here with her permission.

Today she came in a little late, having spent 40 minutes on a telephone call from a man in Chicago who had tracked her down after reading an Associated Press article telling about Jan’s work. The caller wanted to ask a reliable non-Mormon about some matters discussed on a “60 Minutes” episode he had seen. They talked about Proposition 8, and whether or not the Mormons were going to “invade” Massachusetts to make them change their laws, and whether Jan thought there would be a backlash against Mormonism over Proposition 8. He asked about the temple, and what Mormons did in the temple, and whether Jan had been permitted to go to the temple.

He asked about baptism for the dead. Specifically, “What do they do with the coffins while they’re baptizing the dead?”

Jan swears that’s what he asked. Honest.



  1. Don’t they just float them, nearby?

    Comment by Guy Murray — August 18, 2009 @ 11:52 am

  2. Thanks, Ardis. I needed a laugh this morning. Although the question seemed funny at first, I realize this is a serious matter and a touchy subject for many people.

    Comment by Phoebe — August 18, 2009 @ 11:53 am

  3. That one question illustrates the need for the Church Public Affairs Dept :-)

    Comment by Anne (U.K) — August 18, 2009 @ 12:41 pm

  4. Heelahrious!

    (BTW, I was going to say hi to you. When I was in SLC a week ago yesterday my son and I popped into the Church History Library to see the place and look around a bit. My friend Reed Russell said you had been there, so I must have just missed you. We had to dash anyway; we were going to see a show about dinosaurs at the IMAX theater in the Clark Planetarium.)

    On the OP, see no. 15 here:

    Comment by Kevin Barney — August 18, 2009 @ 12:46 pm

  5. Secret priesthood responsibility: digging up graves. Tradition is that it can only be done with shovels and at night. We keep hoping for a change in policy permitting backhoes. The Danites will probably get me now for outing the secret. But I don’t care. My back is killing me.


    Comment by Edje — August 18, 2009 @ 1:22 pm

  6. Ah, c’mon, Ardis. Can’t you tell when Jan’s pulling your leg?

    I have a nice bridge just a mile or so down the street that I’d be willing to sell. :-)

    Comment by Mark B. — August 18, 2009 @ 1:38 pm

  7. Mark knows I have a thing for that bridge, and I cross it every time I come to it.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — August 18, 2009 @ 2:09 pm

  8. At least you don’t jump off it.

    Comment by Eric Nielson — August 18, 2009 @ 3:03 pm

  9. That was a good one. We were teasing my boy about them the other day and mentioned the idea of baptizing the real dead… he got real quizzical as he wondered if I was telling the truth or not.

    Comment by JonW — August 18, 2009 @ 6:29 pm

  10. Baptisms for the dead would go a lot faster if the church ever switches to sprinkling. Just open the coffin, sprinkle, close it back up, and on to the next one.

    I think a name change is in order. Like how “genealogy” was changed to “family history”. Maybe call it “_proxy_ baptism for the dead”, and that might avoid the majority of the confusion.

    Comment by Bookslinger — August 18, 2009 @ 6:40 pm

  11. Har har har. It’s all fun and games until it’s your own MOTHER asking your kids those questions! 😉

    Comment by Tracy M — August 18, 2009 @ 6:50 pm

  12. Indeed.

    Helen Whitney (PBS documentarian) on Utah Now, “It’s amazing, the depth and breadth of ignorance about the Mormons.” Around minute 4:55.

    Comment by Ben — August 18, 2009 @ 7:35 pm

  13. I had heard, perhaps urban rumor, that when the church first started translating the BOM and some missionary tracts for Thailand, the phrase “baptism for the dead” translated as “washing the corpses”. Was the caller a Thai?

    BTW, it was great to get to meet you today, even though it was just for a few minutes. Thanks for your help,

    Comment by kevinf — August 18, 2009 @ 11:22 pm

  14. Nice one, Bookslinger.

    Comment by Jami — August 19, 2009 @ 8:05 am

  15. When are we going to start doing baptisms for the undead?

    Comment by jeans — August 21, 2009 @ 5:22 am

  16. Now that, of course, is the real question, jeans.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — August 21, 2009 @ 6:01 am

  17. I think the UNdead would have to sit through the missionary discussions and be interviewed by the DL or ZL, no?

    Comment by Bookslinger — August 21, 2009 @ 6:41 am

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