Let's keep the conversation going, the president of the board of the United Jewish Federation of Utah said Tuesday, the day after Holocaust survivors broke off negotiations with the LDS Church over posthumous baptisms.
"I want to deal with this on a civil and intellectual basis, rather than drawing lines in the sand," said William Tumpowsky following a decision by members of the American Gathering of Holocaust Survivors and Their Descendants to stop talking to leaders of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
American Gathering honorary chairman Ernest Michel charged in New York Monday that the LDS Church has repeatedly violated its 1995 agreement to stop the practice of doing proxy baptisms for people killed in Nazi concentration camps.
In a meeting with reporters on Monday, Elder Lance B. Wickman of the LDS Church's Quorums of the Seventy said that changes being made to the church's genealogical database will make it harder for names of Holocaust victims to be entered for posthumous baptism. He said names have been entered by a small number of well-meaning members, and that the church has removed 43,000 names in recent years, in addition to the 260,000 initially removed after a 1995 agreement reached between the LDS Church and American Gathering.
Tumpowsky also opposes the baptisms and believes that the church is not doing enough to stop them. "They need to encourage, more emphatically, the importance of respecting our religious beliefs and our historical perspective," he said.
"But I also value the relationship" between the LDS Church and Utah's Jewish community, he said, noting recent efforts to bring Jews and Mormons together "and not be strangers to each other. ... That comes with spending more time together."
"Michel is stopping the conversation, and that's his right," he said. "But I want to keep talking."
He said he hopes that LDS Church members understand how deeply Jews are hurt by proxy baptisms of Holocaust victims.
"The lives and souls of six million innocent people are deeply sacred to us," he said. "Everything was stolen from them — their life and their future." They died because they were Jewish, he noted, "and for that reason their memories need to be respected."
He likens the baptisms to the violation Mormons would feel if someone broke into an LDS temple.