I read an article this morning about the late Daniel Pearl's baptism-by-proxy, performed by some Mormons in Idaho. I knew that baptism of the dead was a common practice by Mormons, but I never knew what was behind it.
It appears, at least according to this article, that their goal is that all people will be redeemed. Saved. So they baptize the dead—even non-Mormons like Daniel Pearl—so that the world might be saved.
While I'm not advocating for Mormon doctrines, I am intrigued by this. Evangelicals preach the gospel so that some will be saved (depending on how they view things like election, predestination, and God's mission in the world). Mormons baptize the dead so that all will be saved. I guess they figure that as long as they keep up the family research work that they do and respond to the requests to baptize the dead, they'll always be in that business.
Maybe there is something for we evangelicals to learn here. We too often draw sharp lines about who is in and who is out, as if we have laid claim to the guest register at Hotel Heaven. We've created very precise requirements about what makes a person acceptable to God (we say that it's faith in Jesus, but we sometimes include the accuracy of the confession, doctrinal affirmations, and even political preferences in the mix). The Mormons don't seem too concerned about those kinds of things. They just baptize the dead willy-nilly, with the intent of helping them live forever in the place of God's intention. So maybe it's a practice that people like me don't buy, but there's still something behind it worth considering.
And it isn't universalism, just so you know. Unless we're talking about the universal nature of God's love, and the universal reach of his mission in the world, and the universal call for the people of God to bring blessing to all the families of the earth (Genesis 12:1-2). That's the kind of universalism I can affirm.
I'm not particularly interested in baptizing the dead, but like Daniel Pearl's mother graciously commented, I think that the Mormons have good intentions. Perhaps we might learn that we can baptize the living with love, prayer, blessing, care, service, hope, and direction. We should certainly preach the gospel, but not absent of demonstration. The evidence of the kingdom of God's present reality is seen in people and communities of faith that demonstrate the reality of the kingdom.
We need to express our own good intentions.