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The Grounds of Apostasy

A Short History of the Modern Mormon Church

by CHRISTOPHER BRAUCHLI

 Things have come to a pretty pass when religion is allowed to invade the sphere of private life.

–William Lamb, From Melbourne’s Papers

Herewith a recent history of the Mormon Church:

1978:  That was the year the church discovered that banning black males from the priesthood during the first 148 years of the church’s existence had been an error.  The error was corrected in a letter from the president of the church who stated that the Lord “has heard our prayers and, by revelation, has confirmed that the long promised day has come when every faithful, worthy man in the Church may receive thy priesthood. . . .” A leader of a group of black Mormons was delighted with the change in church policy.  He said the end of time might be approaching because “we perhaps have reached a state of brotherhood.”  He was wrong.

1995: That was the year that the Church’s practice of what the Mormons call “Vicarious Baptism” but is more accurately called “Posthumous Baptism”, was disclosed.  The Mormons believe, as most religions do, that theirs is the only one worth having and, more importantly, the only one guaranteeing its members a seat in heaven.  Generous of spirit and eager to share their good fortune with those not members of the church during life, it was publicly disclosed that the Mormons had a long tradition of baptizing the dead without their consent or the consent of their descendants.   Among the beneficiaries of this practice were Adolph Hitler and 380,000 holocaust victims, including Anne Frank. Upon learning of this practice Jewish leaders were upset.  One senior researcher at the Simon Wiesenthal Center said of the baptized decedents: “These people were born Jews, they lived as Jews and many of them died because they were Jews.  They would not have chosen to be baptized Mormons in life and there is no reason they would want to be baptized by proxy in death.” Following the public disclosure of the practice the Mormons agreed to unbaptize all those involuntarily baptized after death and to abandon the practice.

1996:  That was the year that the Salt Lake City Board of Education voted to eliminate the ski, chess, Latino, Frisbee and Bible clubs in the public schools.  The action was in response to a petition from the Gay/Straight Alliance, a gay and lesbian high school club seeking formal recognition.  The club’s purpose was to help gays and lesbians who were struggling with their sexuality, to support one another.  Legislators said permitting the club to meet under school auspices eroded family values and promoted homosexuality.  In a vote of 4 to 3 the school board eliminated all of the school-sponsored clubs so the board could not be accused of discriminating against gays and lesbians by banning only their club.

2003:  That was the year it was disclosed that “Vicarious Baptism” had never stopped notwithstanding the 1995 accords.  Furthermore, the unbaptisms never took place.  As one of the negotiators of the 1995 accords said:  “We never had in mind that we would on a continual basis, go in and ferret out the Jewish names.  That would represent an intolerable burden.”

2010:  That was the year it was disclosed that “Vicarious Baptism” had never stopped notwithstanding the 1995 accords.  Mormons agreed with the Jewish groups that “Vicarious Baptism” would stop and also announced they had a new computer system in place that would make it hard for members to get people posthumously baptized unless those being baptized were direct ancestors of their sponsors.

2012:  That was the year it was disclosed that “Vicarious Baptism” had never stopped.  Church president, Tomas Monson and two other members in the Mormon First Presidency signed a letter that was read to every Mormon congregation in the world and it says posthumous baptisms of “unauthorized groups, such as celebrities and Jewish Holocaust victims must stop.

2014:  That is the year in which Kate Kelly, a human rights lawyer and devoted Mormon who founded the Ordain our Women movement received a letter from the bishop of her congregation telling her June 22 is  the day a disciplinary hearing will be held to see if she should be thrown overboard by the Mormons.  In the e-mail notifying her of the hearing she was told that she faces “disfellowshipment or excommunication on the grounds of apostasy.” Kate’s offense is that she has observed that men and women are not equal in the eyes of the church and that should be changed.  She thinks women should enjoy the same status as black men and be permitted to become priests.

That is the year John Dehlin, an advocate for lesbian and gay Mormons, got a letter from the president  of his region telling him to resign from the church or face a hearing before a disciplinary council.  Mr. Dehlin’s offenses include extensive writing about the Mormon Church and LGBT issues,  and expressing doubts on Internet postings about some of the teachings of the Mormon Church.

Church officials explained the reasons for ordering Ms.Kelly and Mr. Dehlin to defend themselves. In a statement released on June 11 the officials said:   “Some members in effect choose to take themselves out of the church by actively teaching and publicly attempting to change doctrine to comply with their personal beliefs.  This saddens leaders and fellow members.”

Unknown is whether this language originated with the present leadership of the Mormon church or was simply copied from a similar statement made in the years before 1976 when black men were trying to get the church to permit black men to  enter the priesthood.  It probably doesn’t matter.

Christopher Brauchli is an attorney in Boulder, Colorado. He can be emailed at brauchli.56@post.harvard.edu.