SALT LAKE CITY — Leaders of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints have acted not only with goodwill, but also with integrity and honesty in decade-long discussions over Jewish concerns about proxy baptisms, it was stated today.
Elder D. Todd Christofferson, a member of the Presidency of the Seventy, was commenting after discussions with Jewish guests who had been invited to Salt Lake City to discuss the issue.
Disagreement had arisen over interpretation of a memorandum of understanding that was drafted in 1995, after some Jews objected to Holocaust victims’ names being used in Latter-day Saint temple ceremonies. Church members believe these ceremonies extend significant blessings to departed souls.
In February, the Church invited several Jews concerned with the issue to Salt Lake City for discussions, and today’s meeting was the result of that invitation. Representatives of the Family and Church History Department spent considerable time explaining the processes and mechanisms that have been put in place to ensure consistency, as far as possible, with Church policies and procedures.
Both sides later characterized the meeting as cordial and respectful, and said they believed the relationships between the participants had been “fortified and deepened.” Elder Christofferson said while the Jewish visitors came with specific concerns, they spoke respectfully of the Church and its beliefs, while Church leaders emphasized that those feelings of respect were mutual.
The most concrete result of the meeting was a decision to set up a joint, ad hoc committee with representatives from both sides to examine and resolve remaining concerns. The committee will begin meeting within the next six weeks.
After the meeting, Elder Christofferson emphasized that the Church had always kept its side of the understanding.
“In 1995, we made an extraordinary gesture of goodwill to our Jewish friends by recognizing special sensitivities over Holocaust victims,” he said.
At that time, some 380,000 names of Holocaust victims were removed by the Church from display in the public database known as the International Genealogical Index, or IGI, which is freely available to researchers on the Internet. Church members and other genealogical enthusiasts often use the IGI in gathering data on their ancestors.
In addition, he said the Church had over the years removed from display in the IGI the names of deceased Jews when they had been made known to Church officers. A letter from the governing First Presidency of the Church was read in Sunday meetings worldwide in June 1995, urging Church members to submit for temple ordinances the names of their own ancestors, and not the names of deceased celebrities or Jewish holocaust victims.