My mother was born in the covenant. She was baptized at age 8. My father was a convert; I was present at his baptism in 1964. My parents were endowed and sealed in the Salt Lake Temple in 1967; my brothers and I were sealed to them at the same time. I was there. I remember. My father was sealed to his deceased parents in the Las Vegas Temple in 1990. I know. I was there. I knelt as proxy for his mother.
Kneeling with my family in Salt Lake in 1967, and kneeling with my father in Las Vegas in 1990, are some of the sweetest memories of my life. My dad and I didn’t do a lot of things together, although he did a lot of things for me. I became a genealogist because of something he sparked, and I do what I do today, including Keepa, because of those early genealogical experiences. For years I would call my father every few days to report what I had found in researching his family, and he was always as excited, as eager for the trivial details as I could hope. Every genealogist should be so lucky to have someone so eager to listen.
My parents are both gone now; Mom died almost 11 years ago, and Dad died six years ago next month. There aren’t many people around any more who really knew them. My brothers and me, yes, and the grandchildren, who have childish memories if they were old enough, and a few remaining aunts. But neither of our parents were great socializers outside the family, and I would be surprised if there are many others who remember them, or even knew them well to begin with.
I went on to New Family Search this weekend to check some temple ordinance dates. Months ago I had contacted the staff to ask why my father’s sealing to his parents was still shown as “Ready” rather than completed with the 1990 date; they replied that they had indeed found the record of the 1990 work and that blank would be quickly completed. It hasn’t been. It still shows “Ready,” and any nincompoop could re-do the work, with their unnecessary data becoming the official record of the church. That’s bad enough.
But this time I noticed that all my mother’s ordinances – all the work she had done in life – were still showing as “Ready,” waiting for a stranger to step in and do the work for her.
And worse, there was a duplicate record showing that some nincompoop had stepped in and sealed my mother (sort of – they couldn’t be bothered to get her name quite right) to my father in Nauvoo in 2007.
Seeing that data made me tear up quite unexpectedly. It hurt. It made me angry. Who was this stranger who had presumed to intrude on our family this way? Who was making decisions about my parents that they had no right to make? Who was erasing the traces of my parents’ own lives and replacing them with this bogus data from Nauvoo in 2007? It made me sad. It made me angry.
I know my emotional reaction is irrational. I know that what this Nauvoo-2007-Stranger did does nothing to change the lives of my parents. It doesn’t negate the fact that they were worthy of being and chose to be sealed in life. It doesn’t even really matter in eternity – it was an unnecessary, meaningless action on the part of somebody who meant well but was a lousy genealogist and a waster of temple resources.
But it still hurt. It means that a stranger was, in effect, taking my parents’ names in vain. It meant that somebody who didn’t know them was attempting to make decisions on their behalf. It looks like someone erased my parents’ actions and replaced them with their own “better” judgment. How presumptuous! How annoying! How unfair!
Unexpectedly, I suddenly understood at least in part why some Jews are upset by the attempts of some Church members, against the policies and requests of the Church, to do temple work for Jewish victims of the Holocaust. Yes, the Mormon work is meant in goodwill. Yes, it has effect only if the deceased person accepts it. But it looks like strangers are erasing the facts of Jewish lives. It looks like strangers are attempting to make decisions in behalf of deceased Jews. It is – doesn’t just look like, but is – a case of strangers stepping in, who have no understanding of the lives of the people whose names they are submitting.
It is different, in Mormon view, from the case of my parents, because the stranger’s work for my parents was indeed unnecessary, while we believe that at some future day the work for the Holocaust victims will need to be done. But from the Jewish point of view, that difference doesn’t exist.
My reaction to some stranger’s intrusion into my parents’ memory may not be quite the same as the reaction of those Jews who have objected to our temple work, but it’s enough to convince me that they have a valid objection. Regardless of the theology, as long as Church leaders have agreed that work for Holocaust victims will not be done except where such persons are direct ancestors of Church members (who have as much right to do the work as any other relative has to object to that work), I will support that agreement and not try to sneak around the corner. I wish all Church members would sustain that policy.