The Journey of Life
Unlike many other Christians, Mormons do not practice infant baptism. Baptism is possible from the age of 8, which they consider the age of accountability when a child is generally sufficiently mature to distinguish right from wrong. A person must know what they are doing to be baptised, as it is considered a solemn promise made to the Lord to behave in a certain way. Converts are baptised even if they have been previously baptised into a different Christian denomination. Prior to baptism, a candidate is interviewed by their local Bishop or mission authority to make sure they understand and are willing to obey the laws of the Gospel, have repented of their sins, and that they have faith in Jesus Christ. The baptismal ceremony involves total immersion in water, accompanied by the saying of a prayer. Usually within a week of baptism the candidate is confirmed in the Church through the laying on of hands and prayers, which may be figuratively referred to as the ‘baptism by fire’ through which they receive the gift of the Holy Ghost. Reception of the Gift of the Holy Ghost following baptism confirms membership in the Church. Baptism symbolises faith in the death and rebirth of Jesus Christ, signifying a remission of sin, through which the individual is washed free of sin.
As noted, in Temples, baptism is also performed for the dead, those in the spirit world who did not ‘hear the Gospel’ in their lifetimes. It is baptism by proxy, or a proxy ordinance. It is available to all, regardless of their race, religion, or morality in life. It is up to the deceased individual whether they accept it, and does not force conversion on unwilling individuals who continue to have rights of agency and choice after death. As noted, the LDS Church teaches that early Christians performed this ritual, using 1 Corinthians 15:29 as scriptural justification. This practice has proved controversial to some, however. For example both victims and perpetrators of the Holocaust have been baptised which has been objected to by Jewish groups. They consider it insensitive to the living and the dead. Thus Church policy since the 1990s is that proxy baptism can only be requested for one’s own ancestors and to request permission from the nearest surviving next-of-kin of those who died in the past 95 years. The Church takes this commitment seriously and, at one point, hundreds of improperly submitted names that did not follow this policy were stricken from Church records.
Marriage is a sacred ordinance ordained by God that seals together the couple and all of their children, born, unborn, and adopted. Marriage is central to LDS doctrine, which states that marriage between one man and one woman is part of God’s plan. It is very important for Mormons to get married and have children, if possible. It is not unusual for Mormons to have larger families than the societal norm in the developed world. God wants human beings to have children so that spirits can have their time on earth in physical bodies for testing and learning. Birth draws spirits from pre-mortal existence into the mortal realm, in which they live life on earth before returning to the Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ in the three kingdoms. Marriage is essential to salvation, and persons who remain unmarried by choice cannot reach the highest level of the Celestial Kingdom after death. Mormons have been known to say that the most important thing in life is to ‘marry the right person, in the right place, by the right authority’. Marriage is only sealed for eternity if it is performed in a Temple by a person with priesthood authority to do so. Still, the couple must keep the covenants of fidelity, love, and obedience for marriage to be eternal.
For funerals, burial is generally preferred to cremations except in jurisdictions where this is not allowed. Embalming is accepted and allowed. If the deceased has a Temple endowment they will be buried in their Temple garments. Funerals take place in an LDS chapel or mortuary, officiated by an LDS bishop or other proper authority. Family members give the family prayer, and family priesthood holders usually dedicate the grave. Grief is tempered by belief in eternity together as a family; Mormons believe they will eventually meet again in the spirit world. No one knows exactly where that spirit world is. The second prophet, Brigham Young, taught that the spirit world is ‘around us’, but the precise meaning of that remains unclear. However, Mormons teach that spirits have the same identity and basic form as during their mortal existence; they have the same families and continue with their work.