Why Mormons See Genealogy As Sacred Work
Mormons teach that family relationships can endure beyond the grave - forever.
But to them, eternity extends not only forward, but also back into infinity. This belief
makes them care deeply about ancestors who lived centuries ago - even before
Christianity on earth.
Mormons believe that families are forever. They believe that if they live righteously,
and by the teachings of Jesus Christ, they will lovingly be reunited after death with all
their family, and with God, their Heavenly Father, and Christ, His Son. Together, they
will live in surpassing happiness and peace.
But when Mormons speak of "family," they mean not just their living relatives and
descendants, or those forebears they happen to know about. "Family," to them,
means all their relatives, all the way back.
"SPIRITS IN PRISON"
Mormons are certain that God's love, like God Himself, is infinite - without end,
without beginning. It extends forward into the ever shall be, and backward into the
ever was. They are certain that God's promise of eternal life must include all of
mankind - not just those who happened to be born since the foundation of
Mormons further believe that all who gain the Kingdom of Heaven must first accept
Christ as "the way, the truth, and the life," and be baptized, in His name, for the
forgiveness of sins. According to Mormon doctrine, those who die without these
ordinances inhabit a special realm of life hereafter. The Apostle Peter called them
"spirits in prison."
As Christ said, "Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into
the kingdom of God."
To Mormons, whose Church is founded on family love and loyalty, the glory of their
religion is that it provides the spirits of these deceased an opportunity to accept the
baptism that Jesus taught in His gospel. Acceptance, they believe, will bring deliverance
from the spirit prison, and make it possible for these ancestors to join the blessed
family reunion in the hereafter.
How is this achieved? Through ceremonies in a Mormon Temple in which they, the
living descendants, are literally baptized by immersion in water in behalf of their
deceased ancestors. First, of course, they must seek out these ancestors in
genealogical records, verify their names and if possible their dates, and establish their
lines of kinship.
To Mormons, baptism performed for the dead is a sacred expression of their love for
their families and their forebears. Those who receive this baptism by proxy after death
have the freedom, in the spirit world, to accept or reject it, since "free agency" is a
basic principle of Mormon belief.
But baptism, as Paul indicates, is an ordinance of this world; thus, to those who did
not receive it during life on earth the Mormon Church offers it vicariously, that is,
through a stand-in, or representative-a living, loving relative. Christ followed this
practice when He offered Himself as a sacrifice for all mankind.
"The last enemy that shall be destroyed," wrote the Apostle Paul, "is death...Else what
shall they do which are baptized for the dead, if the dead rise not at all?"
Thus one may understand why Mormons regard Temple work for the dead among the
most profound of their Church responsibilities. Indeed, a Mormon leader said recently,
they are prepared to perform the necessary genealogical research so that all those
now or ever in the spirit world can be vicariously baptized.
"You mean," an astounded listener asked, "you are out to offer the gospel to every
human being who ever lived on earth?"
"Yes," the leader answered simply, "for we have been commanded to do so."
"For the entire human family? -- Why, that is impossible!"
"Perhaps," said the leader, "but we shall try to do it anyway."