Mormons have been preforming posthumous baptisms on many well known people, who because they are dead, can not consent to this. Do they not have respect for the dead? I’ve heard of the Mormon faith but never knew much about it. However, it doesn’t seem as though it’s very accepting with it’s belief of polygamy in particular. Will this have people second guess the people they look up to?
Here’s a question leading U.S. presidential contender Mitt Romney will be glad he wasn’t asked as he slugged it out with his rivals during a bruising televised debate last week: how many wives does your great-great-grandfather have? Had the question arisen during the debate in the run-up to today’s crucial primary election in his home state of Michigan, the multi-millionaire former private equity company boss would have struggled to come up with a precise figure, even with his considerable grasp of numbers.
Astonishingly, a respected genealogical investigator claims that his great-great-grandfather, Parley Parker Pratt, has been married dozens of times — possibly as many as 175 times. Whether these ‘marriages’ would be recognized by anyone outside the Mormon Church, which conducted them — and which counts Mitt Romney as one of its most prominent members — is a very different matter.
Bizarrely, the great majority took place after Pratt was murdered in 1857. According to Joseph Smith, the ‘prophet’ who founded Mormonism, after purportedly experiencing a divine revelation in 1820, polygamy was ordained by God; and for the first 60 years of the religion it was widely practiced. Although the Church finally banned it in 1890 to comply with federal law, according to the investigator it still sanctions posthumous plural marriages, so dead people can be wed in its temples in rituals acted out by stand-in brides and grooms.
There are apparently plans to stage the 14th marriage of another of Mitt Romney’s long-deceased great-great-grandfathers, Miles Romney — which seems even odder, given that this Lancastrian emigrant was actually an avowed monogamist, faithful to his one wife, Elizabeth. Yet another of Mitt’s great-great-grandfathers, Carl Heinrich Wilcken, has been married 58 times. When we add the number of wives married by the Republican presidential candidate’s 15 direct male forebears going back four generations, the total comes to 346 . . . at the last count.
So how do we know all these wacky statistics? Not because Mitt Romney is shouting them from the rooftops on the election trail, that’s for sure. There is no disputing that the former Massachusetts governor is a brilliant man; or that he has the business acumen and hands-on experience many believe the U.S. needs to turn the economy around.
Having gained a first-class English degree and an MBA from Harvard, he rose to the summit of Bain Capital, one of the nation’s most successful private equity companies, making an estimated $250 million (£157m) personal fortune in the process. A devoted husband and father of five sons, he is also a model family man, and a compassionate conservative.
But when he wears his political hat, his religion rarely rates more than a passing mention. Even in his autobiography he manages to tell the story of his forefathers’ struggle to establish their faith in the face of brutal prejudice without saying plural marriage was the fundamental tenet that most repulsed 19th- century Americans. The investigator who has taken it upon herself to expose the strange rituals practiced by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, to use the official name, is Helen Radkey, 69, a whistle-blower who researches Mormon genealogy.
Beyond the fact that they present themselves as paragons of virtue (who could be cleaner-cut than those smiling Seventies pop pin-ups The Osmonds?), most outsiders know little about Mormons, even though theirs is one of the world’s fastest growing religions with 14 million followers, almost half in the U.S.
At a time when one of their brethren is vying to become the world’s most powerful man, however, Radkey, who converted to Mormonism in 1971 — and was excommunicated seven years later for challenging a decision made by elders — is determined to acquaint U.S. voters with their practices.
Having moved to the Mormon mecca of Salt Lake City more than two decades ago to investigate the rites carried out inside their imposing white temples (which can be accessed only by carefully vetted, card-carrying devotees), she first made headlines in the Nineties by uncovering another disquieting ritual — the posthumous mass-baptism of non-believers.
Using a computer log-on passed to her by a disaffected follower, she researched the databases in the Church’s Family History Library — an imposing granite building which contains the world’s biggest collection of ancestral documents — and found that the names of hundreds of thousands of dead people had been logged, so they could be baptised as Mormons.
This bizarre project is still going on, and the sheer scale and audacity of it almost beggars belief, as I discovered while watching Radkey scroll through the vast cast of dead people chosen to be admitted to the Church, regardless of the beliefs they had held in life. This list of those who have already been posthumously baptized includes film stars such as Charlie Chaplin, Marilyn Monroe and Rita Hayworth.
They have also baptized Diana Frances Spencer, whose address was listed as the family seat of Althorp, Northamptonshire. Her file also includes her birth and death date. And within two hours of her death, Whitney Houston’s name had been entered into the computer, too, without thought for the feelings of her grieving Baptist relatives.
The Mormons believe that in the afterlife no one is beyond redemption, no matter how evil their earthly deeds — the list also includes notorious figures such as Adolf Hitler and his Nazi henchman Joseph Mengele, serial killer Ted Bundy and Timothy McVeigh, who killed 168 people and injured 800 more in the Oklahoma City Bombing — and even one of the 9/11 hijackers.
How would Romney explain that to the electorate, one wonders? In the early Nineties, Jewish genealogists found more than 300,000 Holocaust victims had been listed for baptism. Shame-faced Mormon authorities promised to remove the names, but then in 1999 Radkey discovered that they had failed to keep their word.
And this week she revealed that the schoolgirl diarist and Nazi victim Anne Frank was baptised as a Mormon — for the eighth time — only this month, in their temple in the Dominican Republic. Sifting through the database yesterday, Ms. Radkey says she has just discovered another controversial posthumous baptism. It is that of the U.S. journalist Daniel Pearl — he was Jewish — who was captured and beheaded by Al Qaeda in Pakistan in 2002, while researching an article about British shoe-bomber Richard Reid.
One wonders how his widow, Marianne, will feel about that, and what the American public, who were outraged by his murder, will think of a religion which takes it upon itself to act in this manner. This is the Church where Mitt Romney worships, and which his ancestors helped to build. And at a time when religion is starting to become a significant factor in the battle for the Republic nomination, Helen Radkey’s latest investigation could prove devastating.
Already, opinion polls indicate that one-fifth of Americans would not trust a Mormon with the White House; and some pundits have openly declared that a follower could never be president. This distaste for Romney’s religious convictions might explain why, despite his greater funding and more broadly appealing policies, he faces defeat by Rick Santorum today in two crucial primaries, one in Arizona, and the other in Michigan, where he should have been a shoo-in given that his father, George, was once a popular state governor and chairman of the state’s American Motors Corporation car giant.
Imagine the lurid anti-Mormon stories that would flood the internet if Romney were to be chosen by his party to fight the presidential election this November. This is precisely Helen Radkey’s aim. She has amassed 30 manila files of information about the Romney ancestors’ multiple marriages.
Most embarrassingly, she has drawn up what she calls his ‘Family Polygamy Tree’, highlighting the Romney men’s multiple marriages (when alive and after death). It dates back to the Lancashire-born Miles, the great patriarch who ventured to America with his wife Elizabeth in 1841, having embraced the Mormon faith while listening to missionaries in Preston.
‘I think Mitt Romney is a hypocrite,’
‘Of course what happened in the 1800s isn’t what happens today and he is not responsible for what his ancestors did. But he is part of a religion performing posthumous polygamous marriage rites today — even though he has publicly denounced polygamy — [and] he should be asked where he stands on this issue. There are double standards here — he says “one man, one wife” but at the same time many more people, including his own ancestors, are still being sealed (the Mormon term for marriage) to ever more wives; it’s part of Mormon theology.’
She also points out the issue of ‘posthumous baptisms’ which are carried out because Mormons believe people who died and were not members of their faith must be made Mormons to have an afterlife.
‘I can’t see how a U.S. president can hold those beliefs. If he doesn’t think Jews, Muslims, Protestants, atheists and all the other Americans are on a par, how can he view people equally?’
These seem reasonable points; the sort that ought to have been put by the other presidential candidates during last Wednesday’s debate. Perhaps they fear having their own beliefs examined: Newt Gingrich, the thrice-wed serial philanderer; Santorum with his homespun Christian fundamentalism.
And it also has to be said that researching the Romney family’s story this week with the help of Joe Romney, one of Mitt’s many cousins, I found much to admire about Mormons, not least their resilience and courage. Driven out of the Mormons’ first colony in Nauvoo, Illinois, after Joseph Smith was martyred (he was shot in prison while awaiting trials for smashing the printing presses of a newspaper that attacked polygamy), they journeyed ever westwards with their persecuted kinsfolk, toiling for hundreds of miles through hostile country in rickety wagons, and raising new towns from barren earth.
His great-grandfather Miles Park Romney set up a township in Arizona but eventually moved across the border to Mexico where he became a wealthy landowner with a new polygamous colony — and married his fifth wife in 1897. As for their modern-day descendants, the Mormons of America really do seem very nice people. Unnervingly nice, in fact.
Meeting Romney’s relatives in Rexburg, Idaho, this week, where his grandfather Gaskell once lived, I was received with unfailing hospitality; and in the almost exclusively Mormon town, the ambience was redolent of the America one sees in Fifties movies. Ask these people the most banal question, such as how long it might take to drive somewhere, and they stop and consider it, then deliver a helpful answer looking you straight in the eye.
And in the milkshake bar (Romney-owned, of course), it’s refreshing to see students from the Brigham Young University talking to one another without texting or browsing Facebook at the same time. Many girls wear their hair in sweeping styles, often with flower brooches, and use make-up sparingly; the boys are clean-shaven. They have separate dorms, naturally — sex before marriage is an excommunicable sin.
Perhaps it might not be so bad for a U.S. president to come from a background such as this, considering the crime and degeneracy that mars many American cities. On the issue of polygamy, while thousands of fundamentalist Latter-day Saints still defiantly practise it quite openly, particularly in parts of southern Utah (where some followed polygamist fundamentalist Mormon leader Warren Jeffs before he was jailed for life in 2008 for child sex offences), mainstream Mormons long ago rejected it.
Joe Romney told me he was unaware that posthumous plural marriages were still being performed, but in any case this ‘eternal polygamy’, as he termed it, was not against the law; after all, hadn’t Abraham and Isaac married many wives in the Bible? Half a century ago, Joe Romney worked as a missionary in Britain, and his persuasive powers are still sharply honed. If his cousin Mitt is looking for a religious affairs spokesman, he couldn’t find a better man.
Last night, Church spokesman Eric Purdy explained that posthumous baptisms were conducted to give deceased people the opportunity to be anointed as Mormons in the next life, but that they were free to either accept or reject the offer. Church policy was that members could request these baptisms only for their own ancestors, and seeking to ‘seal’ celebrities was banned. In ‘a few instances’ names had been submitted in violation of this policy but the Church was committed to stamping this out and rigorous safeguards had been put in place to ensure it did not happen.
As regards posthumous marriages, Mr. Purdy said:
‘We believe marriage is the most important relationship in this life, and can continue after this life when performed in a temple. Temple marriages — also known as sealings — are performed only for those married in this life.’
However, this does not tally with Helen Radkey’s research, which shows that several of Romney’s male descendants have been ‘sealed’ to many new wives after their death. But for now the question is whether America is prepared to accept a man who has up to 175 ‘great-great-grandmothers’ — and who belongs to a Church that has baptised Princess Diana, Anne Frank and Adolf Hitler as Mormons — to run their country.