This is the fourth article in the ‘human dignity series’, where we compare the human dignity triangle with the three-fold mission of the LDS church to invite all to come unto Christ. Redeeming the dead is normally understood by LDS members as the work that goes on in temples, where temple-going members are baptized on behalf of their ancestors, those who have gone before them to the other side of the veil, as well as the family history work which is undertaken by members in order to identify the names of those ancestors.
We discuss in this article an expanded concept of redeeming the dead, that includes advocacy work on behalf of those that are kept in bondage by structures of sin and injustice, as well as the empowerment of the oppressed to free themselves from structures of death and misery. Human rights are normally understood as the pursuit of political, economic, social and cultural rights.
let my people go
Bruce R. McConkie once taught that, ‘to the President of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints – the man [or woman, added by author] appointed to preside over the whole Church, and to be like unto Moses – were given the keys to gather modern Israel. Even as Moses led ancient Israel out of Egyptian bondage, so the President of the Church is believed to have the authority to lead modern Israel out of bondage of modern Egypt into Zion’.
What is important to note however is that, according to mormon theology, Moses, the great advocate for the freedom of his people, has given the same keys of gathering and of delivering the modern tribes of Israel to Joseph Smith Jr., the first President of the LDS church, who has then passed them on to his successors. The great exodus of modern Israel took place with the early pioneers who crossed the plains into the valley of the Great Salt Lake led by Brigham Young (see the Exodus Repeated).
And today, Thomas S. Monson has been called to advocate on behalf of the oppressed, the slaves of today’s world, and to organize the Lord’s people to leave modern-day Egypt behind. The understanding of the temple, of the work of redemption of the dead, must be seen in this context of deliverance: out of slavery and bondage, and into the promised land of freedom.
But what of Martin Luther King? Wasn’t he a modern-day prophet as well, a forerunner to the blessings of the temple and the authority of the priesthood being given to all of God’s male children without regard to ethnicity and color? The mountain top of which Martin Luther King speaks in his final speech I have been to the Mountain Top could well have been a Mormon Temple – if MLK had been mormon.
Now, Thomas S. Monson was ordained an apostle in the same year MLK gave his thundering speech I Have a Dream on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. Our current prophet was a contemporary of Martin Luther King Jr. What have we understood since then, as a people, of what we must do with regards to human rights, to freedom, equality and social justice ?
Do LDS members have the same visions as Martin Luther King Jr., the same dreams, the same understanding of their role as ‘saviors on mount zion’, when they go to the mountain of the Lord and worship the God of Justice? The redeeming work we perform must not only be for those who have died and are trapped in spirit prisons, but also for those who are in the modern-day Egypts of today – in this world.
Isn’t undoing the horrors and mistakes of a past generation of oppressors a way of redeeming generations gone before from the spirit prisons in which they now find themselves in? In the spheres in which they are now, they are not in a position to undo the mistakes they have done : we must correct those mistakes on their behalf. We must make right what was wrongly done. They depend on us in making the future brighter than the times past.
The Prophet Joseph Smith taught: “And now, my dearly beloved brethren and sisters, let me assure you that these principles in relation to the dead and the living cannot be lightly passed over, as pertaining to our salvation. For their salvation is necessary and essential to our salvation, as Paul says concerning the fathers – that they without us cannot be made perfect – neither can we without our dead be made perfect” (Doctrine and Covenants 128:15)
Redeeming the dead is more than just ceremonies and rituals. It is advocacy today. It is demonstrating for peace, for social justice, on behalf of the poor, of the excluded, of the marginalized, of the oppressed. It is empowering the poor with ‘great power and authority’, in the same way as priesthood authority is conveyed to those who have died, so that they may be saviors unto themselves and that they may in turn bless those who are in need of saving.
There are people dying, if you care enough for the living, make a better place for you and for me. Create a world with no fear, together we’ll cry happy tears, see the nations turn their swords into plowshares. We could really get there, if you cared enough for the living: make a little space to make a better place. Heal the world.