Monday, June 15, 2009

He Said: Helen Radkey the Baptism for the Dead Nark

Helen Radkey questions the practice of LDS members doing vicarious baptisms for the dead for nonfamily members. She holds the LDS Church responsible for its members doing the work for whoever they feel like and likes to stir the pot. Radkey was briefly a Mormon and a former Catholic but today is a spiritualist minister who works in a bookstore and has read tarot cards for a living. She also is a professional genealogist who checks the IGI for what she considers breaches of genealogical etiquette. She is very good at what she does so I personally would use her if I needed some IGI work done and could afford her $18 per hour rate.

The Church's spokesperson Scott Trotter says that it is not the policy of the church to do work for people who are not direct descendants and work done is not encouraged by the Church Leaders. The LDS Church official policy is that "Church members are specifically instructed not to submit the names of persons not related to them. Before performing temple baptisms for a deceased family member born within the last 95 years, members are instructed to get permission from the person's closest living relative."

This last few weeks I have learned about several infractions that Helen Radkey claims she exposed about unauthorized baptisms during the past several years. About a month ago the news had several stories about the Obama's mother being baptized. Barak Obama's mother Stanley Ann Dunham was baptized by a zealous church member who felt like doing her work but wasn't a direct relation. I also heard about a buzz on the Fundamentalist listservs a few weeks ago that is frequented by my wife about the baptisms of Ervil LeBaron, Rulon Jeffs and a bunch of other independent and FLDS polygamous leaders. Also in April 2008 the Catholic Church came up with a directive that LDS were not to access parish records nor microfilm them. Supposedly they baptized Pope John Paul II. Also fourteen years ago in 1995 Jewish leaders questioned the Church's practice of baptizing Holocaust victims.

According to Helen Radkey she was behind all of these other churches and groups finding out about LDS members baptizing these people for the dead. One of her main mission's in life is to nark out the church and its members when she finds such infractions. Radkey has become the ultimate IGI identifier of people she doesn't feel should be baptized. Even tries to make a buck or two on her findings.

Religion News Net confirmed that the fundamentalists being baptized was outed by Radkey:

Prominent fundamentalist Mormons, most of whom were excommunicated by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints for practicing polygamy while they were alive, have been posthumously re-baptized in LDS temples, a Salt Lake City researcher says.

Helen Radkey said in a new report that she obtained church records on 20 fundamentalists — from murderer Ervil LeBaron to Joseph Musser to Rulon Jeffs — showing that they’ve been baptized and have had their plural marriages “sealed” for time and eternity by proxy LDS members, one as recently as this year.

In Forward in 2002 we read about Radkey's efforts:

Helen Radkey, an Australian-born genealogical researcher, minister in the independent Universal Life Church and tarot card reader, has been a Catholic and a Mormon — but what she really wants to be is a Jew.

"If I was going to be part of an organized religion, it would be Judaism, but the rabbis here don't want me," she said in an interview with the Forward from her home in Salt Lake City.

This may be an overstatement, but the 60-year-old Radkey has acquired something of a reputation for being a thorn in the side of religious institutions. She is perhaps best known for prodding The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints — known less formally as the Mormon Church or LDS — to stop church members from using the Mormons' extensive genealogical records to baptize posthumously thousands of Jews, including Holocaust survivors.

According to the Pensito Review Radkey is concerned that other famous or infamous people having their vicarious temple work done including: Ted Bundy, Adolph Hitler, Eva Braun, Martin Bormann, Benito Mussolini, Josef Stalin, Mao Tse-Tung, Al Capone, Bonnie and Clyde and Benjamin “Bugsy” Siegel, who was also Jewish to name a few who had their work done.

The Ancestry Insider finds that Radkey likes to rile up religions against each other and is no respector of religions even though she likes to pick on the Mormons.

Radkey has pitted the Church against Jewish groups. In September of 2002 Radkey asked the Church to pay $30,000 plus continued payments if she would give them a list of Jewish names she had uncovered in the IGI. The Church declined. (Forward) Later that year, Ernest Michel met with the Church armed with a report prepared for him by Radkey. (CNN)

Throughout the contradictions, Radkey's self description remains true: "provocative and controversial."

I don't see what the big deal is for Radkey. She is just trying to incite other religions to be angry about doing work for their dead. She certainly doesn't understand much about our directive to do the work for everyone that has ever lived on the earth.

On 6 May 2009 Scott Taylor in the The Deseret News reported:

The LDS Church has counseled its members to request temple baptism and other temple ordinance work only on behalf of their relatives, but it recognizes that sometimes well-meaning members bypass the instruction and submit the names of non-relatives.

The church also recognizes that due to pranks or carelessness, names of famous or infamous individuals or even fictitious names are sometimes submitted for temple work -- all contrary to policy and often resulting in pain and embarrassment.

With millions of members providing names for proxy work worldwide, the church acknowledges the difficulty in preventing such incidents and often learns of them after the fact.

On we read the Church's statement about such baptisms:

Some people have misunderstood that when baptisms for the dead are performed, deceased persons are baptized into the Church against their will. This is not the case. Each individual has agency, or the right to choose. The validity of a baptism for the dead depends on the deceased person accepting it and choosing to accept and follow the Savior while residing in the spirit world. The names of deceased persons are not added to the membership records of the Church.
In the Encyclopedia of Mormonism H. David Burton gives us a different slant on how baptisms for the dead are conducted today:
In the early years of the Church, proxy baptisms were performed only for direct blood ancestors, usually no more than four generations back. Today, Latter-day Saints are baptized not only for their own forebears but also for other persons, unrelated to them, identified through the name extraction program. The practice reflects the yearning of children for their parents and of parents for their children, and charitable feelings for others as well, that they receive the fulness of the blessings of the gospel of Jesus Christ. In LDS perspective, whatever else one may do to mourn, give honorable burial to, cherish, or memorialize the dead, this divinely authorized ordinance of baptism is a demonstration of love and has eternal implications.
In my opinion there isn't much that the church can do about members who decide to do work for those otherside their families. In 1983 I encountered this situation as a student of Hugh Nibley. One of Nibley's heroes was Julius Cesar Scalinger. Nibley told me that he was interested in doing the temple work for Scalinger who was a contemporary of Erastus of Rotterdam. Scalinger apparently mastered every known language in the world and Nibley said he and Erastus were his own inspirations for learning languages. He asked me to go to the Harold B. Lee Library and find Scalinger's genealogical information so he could do his work. The only complete entry I could find that I gave Nibley was from a French Encyclopedia that gave his birth, marriage and death. I never followed up on whether or not Nibley did the work but I suspect he and others did work for people not related.

I never questioned Nibley nor his desire to do work for noble people who lived on the earth. I personally have never done work for someone that isn't related to my family in some way. But even Wilford Woodruff did the work for the signers of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence. A person who is vicariously baptized can accept or reject their baptism. Since it is a concept of the LDS Church that everyone needs baptism I don't understand what the problem is with Radkey or others.


  1. Hey Dr. B, I am a little bit confused by your incomprehension. As Mormons, we value our heritage, pioneers and all that.

    It should not be that difficult to empathize with other people who are concerned about their heritage.

    Really, our inability to understand other people's concerns about baptisms of the dead compromises our ability to live the golden rule.

    Put yourself in a non-Mormon's position and you won't have much difficulty to figure out why baptism for the dead, despite our best intentions, can be troubling.

  2. Hellmut - We understand the concerns of others. We just don't think they're valid, not only because we don't do anything bad to their ancestors, but also if they don't think the ordinances are of any efficacy or force, we don't understand why they should concern themselves with them.

    What I am more concerned with is your desire for us to compromise merely to avoid offending others. If we keep making one doctrinal compromise after another merely to avoid offending people, we're going to wake up one day and discover we're no longer Latter-day Saints.

    Our doctrine is non-negotiable and is neither subject to a popular vote nor responsive to opinion polls.

  3. Jack, you are messing with other people's families. If people did that with your heritage, you would be upset as well.

    Insensitivity, ego- and ethnocentrism are making it difficult for Mormons around the world. You have no idea what your attitude means for the rest of us.

  4. By the way, Jack. The Brethren have got it right. They understand that we shouldn't be baptizing other people's relatives, hence the injunction against submitting names of non-relatives.

    I do not understand why you would consider that a "non-negotiable" of our faith if the Prophet disagrees with you.

  5. I don't understand why any of this is considered a compromise. The 1995 agreement with Jewish leaders included a statement that LDS leaders and members who continued to breach LDS policy would be "corrected".

    The official LDS position is that non-relatives, famous persons, etc. are not to be submitted for proxy work. The problem I see is that nothing is done to the individuals who continue to disregard the LDS policy. No publicity is made of those who break the agreement. Therefore, there is no deterrent affect.

  6. FYI -- Yoou could put a link to here:

    All about Helen Radkey's work!