The Fatal Attraction of Genealogy
Genealogy is being emphasized this month in the LDS Church. A couple of weeks ago, it held its annual RootsTech conference which gives tip on how to do genealogical work. Doing family history (as genealogical work is often referred to in the LDS Church) is foundational for the temple work they do for the dead.
This month’s issue (February, 2017) of their monthly magazine, the Ensign, also focuses on doing family history. Not only does the cover depict it (as seen in the accompanying picture); it also has a couple of articles about it.
Exploring one’s genealogy is not just popular within the LDS Church. The growth of businesses like ancestry.com (which is owned by Mormons and is headquartered in the heart of Mormonism) testify to its increasing popularity. Because of its increasing popularity, genealogy research is where many non-Mormons have their first contact with the LDS Church. And a surprising number become interested in it and eventually join. Their attraction to genealogy thus becomes a fatal attraction to Mormonism.
What most non-Mormons don’t know are the reasons why genealogical work is so attractive to Mormons. They believe that, after they have identified their ancestors, they can work in the temple to save them. As one author in Ensign stated: “we also offer salvation to those who have gone before” (p.43). They do this by being baptized for the dead in the temple. But they aren’t just baptized for them. They also are married (often referred to as a “sealing”) in place of their ancestors. In fact, most of what happens in LDS temples is for the dead.
I think you can imagine how being the saviors of the dead would be attractive to many people. The Bible, however, rules out such activity. “When the wicked man dies, his hope perishes” (Proverbs 11:7). (It is important to remember that, according to the Bible, “wicked” is a description of all unbelievers, not just people who are outwardly wicked.) Or as the writer to the Hebrews puts it: “people are destined to die once, and after that to face judgment” (Hebrews 9:27).
There’s another reason as well why genealogical and subsequent temple work for the dead is attractive to Mormons. It was articulated by one of their 12 apostles, Elder Dale G. Renlund.
I extend the promise of protection that has been offered in the past. Brothers and sisters, I promise protection for you and your family as you take this challenge to find as many names to take to the temple as ordinances you perform in the temple and to teach others to do the same.
If you accept this challenge, blessings will begin to flow to you and your family like the power of the river spoken of by Ezekiel. And the river will grow as you continue to perform this work and teach others to do the same. You will find not only protection from the temptation and ills of the world, but you will also find personal power—power to change, power to repent, power to learn, power to be sanctified, and power to turn the hearts of your family members to each other and heal that which needs healing. (Ensign, February 2017, p.31).
As Renlund says, Mormonism teaches that temple work for the dead will give people protection from temptation and personal spiritual power. In other words, by performing this work, Mormons believe they are not only saving the dead, but are also progressing in their godliness. This too makes genealogical work appealing to LDS members.
Both these reasons, however, merit the label “fatal attraction”. Thinking a person can be saved after death removes much of the urgency of talking to them about salvation while they are alive. And looking to works for the dead as a way to become stronger spiritually is worse than a dead-end. All it does is anger God.
Now is the time to learn about salvation through Christ. His Word is where people find power and protection. This is the message Mormons need to hear. This is the message we need to tell them.