My Cousin Baptized My Dead Relatives Into the Mormon Church

“Baptisms by proxy” are a way to ensure that family members who weren’t Mormon in life can enter the Kingdom of Heaven.
September 30, 2021, 8:02pm
The Star Valley Wyoming Temple of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, located in Afton, Wyoming. (Jon G. Fuller / VWPics via AP Images)

My cousin has been baptizing my dead family members into the Mormon Church. I wasn’t thrilled when I found out. 

These baptisms are called “baptisms by proxy” or “baptisms for the dead,” and they’re pretty common in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. For people who belong to the LDS Church, these baptisms are a way to ensure that family members who weren’t Mormon in life can enter the Kingdom of Heaven after they die. It’s a way to save them. 

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I’d heard about baptisms for the dead before. The Church has been widely criticized for baptisms that were performed on Anne Frank and Princess Diana, for instance. But when I learned that this was taking place in my family, it suddenly hit me differently. Because now I had one big worry on my mind: Would someone try to baptize me after I die? And if so, how do I unsubscribe? 

“I would say it's been like 20 or more,” my cousin Ronald Ross told me when I asked him how many baptisms he’d performed on deceased members of my family. 

Part of the reason this information bothered me had to do with my identity. I’m black and queer, and the Church doesn’t have a great history with either group. But maybe there was more to it? Because as an atheist, it felt like I shouldn’t care about what happens after I die. It’s not like I’ll have opinions about it then. 

Ross is a distant cousin of mine — our grandfathers were brothers. I didn’t know him before I found out about the baptisms, but he still agreed to talk to me about them, knowing that I’d be asking some pretty big questions about our family, and his religion. 

And I really did want to understand. 

I also wanted to tell him that I don’t consent to being baptized after I die. 

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This episode of VICE News Reports looks at the LDS Church’s practice of baptizing non-Mormons after they die. And I talk to a family member who’s been performing these baptisms on our shared ancestors. 

Listen wherever you get your podcasts: Google Podcasts, Spotify, Apple 

CREDITS:

This story was reported by Arielle Duhaime-Ross and produced by Jen Kinney and Stephanie Brown. 

VICE News Reports is hosted by Arielle Duhaime-Ross and produced by Jesse Alejandro Cottrell, Sophie Kazis, Jen Kinney, Janice Llamoca, Julia Nutter, and Sayre Quevedo. Our senior producers are Ashley Cleek and Adizah Eghan. Our associate producers are Steph Brown, Sam Eagan, and Adreanna Rodriguez. Sound design and music composition by Steve Bone, Pran Bandi and Kyle Murdock. 

Our executive producer and VP of Vice Audio is Kate Osborn. Janet Lee is Senior Production Manager for VICE Audio.

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TRANSCRIPT:

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ARIELLE DUHAIME-ROSS: Last summer I got curious about my background. I wanted to know more about the Black side of my family. I am mixed race. My mother is French Canadian and she's white. My dad's black and he's from Trinidad and Tobago. 

And so, my wife and I started this research project.

[MUSIC] 

We started looking into my Dad’s side of the family online, on genealogy websites. And I found out a lot of really interesting things. Like for instance, one of my family members fought against British colonialism and then got executed for it. 

I also found out that I have some family members who were enslavers and others who were probably enslaved.

[MUSIC] 

But then I also noticed something sort of strange, something that didn't make a lot of sense to me. We found a family tree on ancestry.com, and it had all these generations of my family with their birth date, the date of their death, the date they got married. You know the regular stuff. But there was another date -- the date they had been baptized into the church of Jesus Christ of latter day saints, you probably know it as the Mormon church. And the thing that was weird, was that they were baptized AFTER they had died. 

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[MUSIC] 

And so, this is what it looked like: the tree showed that my great grandmother, who died in 1926 was baptized in 1987. So that’s 61 years after she passed. 

And then my grandfather was baptized some time in 2010. More than 30 years after he died.

[MUSIC OUT]

And when I saw these baptisms, my initial reaction was these people are not Mormon.  You know. Some of them were very religious when they were alive. And they were very Catholic. It felt like maybe they might be pissed off if they knew, but they're dead, so they can't be pissed off. And so maybe I should be pissed off for them.  

There was also the concern that like seems to have been done systematically by a family member of mine.  And so… is this also going to happen to me? Would I also get baptized into the Mormon church after I die?

[MUSIC IN, VICE NEWS REPORTS THEME]


[ARCHIVAL RECORDING]: Baptisms for the dead are an opportunity to remember and serve others. 

[ARCHIVAL RECORDING]: the Huffington post reports that Anne Frank was posthumously baptized last week in the LDS temple in the Dominican Republic.

IAN BELL: And in the case of baptisms for the dead, they just state that you're being baptized on behalf of this dead person

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CHRIS ROSS: These people are dead. They aren't aware they are now baptized. 

DUHAIME-ROSS: This is VICE News Reports. And I'm your host, Arielle Duhaime-Ross

[THEME OUT]


DUHAIME-ROSS: When I saw these baptisms, at first I was confused and then I was upset. Because I started to wonder if this would also happen to me, which would be a problem because I’m an atheist.  I don’t believe in the afterlife. And on top of that I am queer and I am black and the Mormon church doesn't have a great relationship with either of those groups. And so this just didn't feel like that is something that I would want for myself.

[MUSIC] 

DUHAIME-ROSS: Now, Before I dove into my family history, I had *some* awareness of this Mormon tradition, of baptism for the dead

For instance I knew that  Mitt Romney, you know this famous mormon. That his father in law had been baptized posthumously,  

[ARCHIVAL RECORDING] BILL MAHER: “In case you didn’t hear, it was discovered last week Edward Davies, Anne Romney’s father, an enthusiastic anti-religious scientist who called organized faith hogwash, was posthumously baptized in the mormon tradition 14 months after he died’” 

DUHAIME-ROSS: There’s also been a lot of celebrity baptisms. Like Elvis was baptized and so was Princess Diana. It’s actually gotten the church into some amount of trouble, because members were baptizing Holocaust victims.

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[ARCHIVAL RECORDING]: The church of latter day saints apologized recently because they, um, they posthumously baptized Simon Wiesenthal parents. 

[ARCHIVAL RECORDING]:  OH wrong, dude. 

[ARCHIVAL RECORDING]: Yeah. Famous Nazi hunter. You can't go there.

[MUSIC] 

DUHAIME-ROSS: So my initial reaction was not super favorable, I was not a fan of this information, But I’m a journalist, and this is my family right so I wanted to find out more. And so I turned to my colleague, 

[INTERVIEW RECORDING] IAN BELL: I haven't, I haven't been an active member of the church since I was 22, 23

DUHAIME-ROSS: this producer at VICE named IAN BELL.

[INTERVIEW RECORDING] IAN BELL: I was born in the Mormon church, 

DUHAIME-ROSS:  Ian grew up in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints..

[INTERVIEW RECORDING] IAN BELL: my mother converted when she was in her early 20s

DUHAIME-ROSS: And he grew up doing all these Mormon people do, like going on a mission and…. baptizing the dead

[INTERVIEW RECORDING] IAN BELL: I did baptisms for the dead when I was little. // I went to the temple a number of times and, and was baptized for dead people.  

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[INTERVIEW RECORDING] DUHAIME-ROSS:  So how do you define baptisms for the dead or baptisms by proxy?

[INTERVIEW RECORDING] IAN BELL: So baptisms for the dead are the ordinance through which people who have deceased have an option to be baptized. 

DUHAIME-ROSS: When Ian was a kid, he participated in these baptisms by proxy. He would go to a Mormon temple, where everyone would be dressed in white. And he would get dunked into a pool of water, and baptized on behalf of this person who is already dead.

[INTERVIEW RECORDING] IAN BELL: And this occurs in the temple with a preset holder, baptizing, another member of the church in place of the dead. 

[MUSIC] 

[INTERVIEW RECORDING] IAN BELL: So that person who’s being baptized…

[INTERVIEW RECORDING] DUHAIME-ROSS: Hm. you're a stand in 

[INTERVIEW RECORDING] IAN BELL: You're the stand in. Yeah. Deceased people don't have a body anymore. So they're using your body as a stand in

[BEAT]

[INTERVIEW RECORDING] IAN BELL: There are a lot of people who haven't heard of Mormonism. Right. And so it's a kind of a nice idea that they're like, well, all these people never heard about the true faith. And so now what they're stuck in purgatory? They don't have an opportunity to enter heaven? We'll give them this opportunity by being baptized by, in proxy for them.

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DUHAIME-ROSS: So this is part of what bothers me, this lack of choice, people were being baptized after they’d died, so obviously they can’t actively participate or give consent for any of this...  But Ian told me according to the LDS church, these people are dead, they can decide. He told me that a dead person is given a choice in the afterlife: to accept the baptism, or not.


[INTERVIEW RECORDING] DUHAIME-ROSS: So even though you're getting baptized and going through this ritual, it's really what it represents is a question that is then being asked to the dead person in the afterlife?  

[INTERVIEW RECORDING] IAN BELL: Exactly 

[INTERVIEW RECORDING] DUHAIME-ROSS: And so that person could then turn around and say, no, I don't want this 

[INTERVIEW RECORDING] IAN BELL: 100%. 

[INTERVIEW RECORDING] DUHAIME-ROSS: Hypothetically, you know, the dead person. If, if we, if we believe that there is an afterlife and that these people actually can consent to anything.

[INTERVIEW RECORDING] IAN BELL: Yeah. In some ways to discuss it, you have to accept the context.

[MUSIC] 

[INTERVIEW RECORDING] IAN BELL:  My great-grandfather who lived until he was 98, wasn't religious at all. Just the nicest, warmest guy you can meet. He died when I was on my mission. And so I was, I think, 19 or 20, and I remember feeling so envious of whoever my family got to be baptized for him 

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[INTERVIEW RECORDING] DUHAIME-ROSS: Hmm. Wow. Ian, why did you want that for him?

[INTERVIEW RECORDING] IAN BELL: I loved my gramps. I wasn't raised with a Dad and my Grandpa died young. And so my gramps, my great-grandfather was like the man male figure in my life. And so I think it's like when you get to heaven and he catches in the crowd, he's like, Hey, you're the one that gave him the chance to get in here and high five each other or something. You got some special bond for eternity. I don't know.

[INTERVIEW RECORDING] DUHAIME-ROSS: Haha. I appreciate the visual because that’s. Yeah. 

How do you think your great grandfather would feel about it though? 

[INTERVIEW RECORDING] IAN BELL: Oh, I  mean, he just thought it was all silly. You know, it's funny my grandmother died last year and. She had all these grandkids and all of them tried to get our grandma to convert to Mormonism. She just was like, just baptize me later. She was like, listen, I drink too much coffee. I love Chardonnay. And I'm not really into it, but just in case, just go baptize me. just do the work later. 

[MUSIC] 

DUHAIME-ROSS: The thing that really blew my mind about this whole idea of consent in the afterlife is that I'm like, oh, so the Mormon church thinks that you keep growing after you die, that you like keep making decisions that are impactful for your life and that you can still be redeemed to a certain extent.

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[INTERVIEW RECORDING] DUHAIME-ROSS: I'm curious, have your views on this practice, this baptism by proxy, have they changed since you were separated from the Church? 

[INTERVIEW RECORDING] IAN BELL: Yes and no. So I don't think we can control anyone from expressing their faith, nor would we want to, as long as that faith doesn't interfere with other people's wellbeing, other people's lives. What I do have a strong opinion about though is the record keeping and, and especially anything that is publicly facing.

[INTERVIEW RECORDING] DUHAIME-ROSS: What do you mean by that

[INTERVIEW RECORDING] IAN BELL: When I was a kid we would hear rumors or something that so-and-so got baptized for this famous person, or in the early part of the church, they were baptizing all sorts of historical figures. I mean, I think all like the early founding politicians of the United States we're baptized by early leaders in the church.

DUHAIME-ROSS: The Mormon church has responded to these criticisms before. They got in some trouble for members baptizing Holocaust victims, like Anne Frank. And the church apologized, saying that they “sincerely” regret that this had happened… And so officially church policy now is that you’re only supposed to baptize your own family members, people that you can actually be linked to in a family tree. But of course, that’s kind of hard to regulate.

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Regardless though, that’s why genealogy is so important to the Mormon Church. It's because in order to do these baptisms by proxy, you have to be able to demonstrate that you are related to these individuals. 

All of this just goes to show how important this is to the faith. These baptisms are seen as a requirement to enter the kingdom of heaven.  

[MUSIC] 

DUHAIME-ROSS: You know, what Ian told me during this conversation is that you can't control people's imagination. But we were both equally upset about the idea of these baptisms becoming part of the public record. 

[INTERVIEW RECORDING] IAN BELL: The tricky thing about baptism though, I think especially now that, um, it could be like widely announced and it can be tied into your larger narrative of who you are after you die. 

[INTERVIEW RECORDING] DUHAIME-ROSS: Right. I mean, that's my concern. Like to be clear, like I don't super fit into what I believe the Mormon church wants for its um, in its members, right? Like I'm, I'm openly queer. I am married to a woman. I mean they say that they are fine with black people now, but historically they have not been. 

DUHAIME-ROSS: Early Mormon teachings were pretty racist. The Book of Mormon describes Black people as cursed by God, that their skin is evil and that blackness is a punishment. The church didn’t even allow Black people to be priests until 1978. And that feels pretty recent to me. 

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[INTERVIEW RECORDING] DUHAIME-ROSS: Why, why would they want me to do they like, am I going to evade this whole baptism by proxy thing because of who I am or, or am I still going to get baptized after I die? Like, how does that work?

[INTERVIEW RECORDING] IAN BELL: Ha. I think you're still going to get at baptized. Um, yeah, I don't, I think that their prejudice aside they, you know, they want everybody. And in like as positive light as you can see it, like everyone deserves salvation 

[MUSIC] 

[INTERVIEW RECORDING] DUHAIME-ROSS: so I can still be saved is what you're saying? 

[INTERVIEW RECORDING] IAN BELL: Oh, yeah. 

[INTERVIEW RECORDING] DUHAIME-ROSS: Cool.

[MUSIC] 

[INTERVIEW RECORDING] CHRIS ROSS: HI!

[INTERVIEW RECORDING] DUHAIME-ROSS: So here's what you're going to do. You're going to take your iPhone and you're going to go into voice memo. 

[INTERVIEW RECORDING] DUHAIME-ROSS: Great press, that button. 

[INTERVIEW RECORDING] CHRIS ROSS: Okay, Uh, all right. And this is, this is going ahead. All right I am listening 

[INTERVIEW RECORDING] DUHAIME-ROSS: Okay, And it's and it's recording, right? 

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[INTERVIEW RECORDING] CHRIS ROSS: Yeah, yeah, yeah. I see some reaction when I speak

[INTERVIEW RECORDING] DUHAIME-ROSS: Perfect, okay 

DUHAIME-ROSS: So that’s my dad….

[INTERVIEW RECORDING] CHRIS ROSS: My name is Christopher Ross. I am your, your dad, the father of Arielle. I was born in Trinidad.  I am now, I’m going to be 73 years old in the next few weeks. 

DUHAIME-ROSS: My dad was the first person I called when I found out about these baptisms. Because I don’t personally know any of the relatives that were baptized, but my Dad does, he was raised by some of them and so I thought he should know about this.  

[INTERVIEW RECORDING] DUHAIME-ROSS: Yeah what was my reaction? 

[INTERVIEW RECORDING] CHRIS ROSS: Your reaction. It was a bit of, I don't know if anger is the right word, but certainly, certainly surprise and, and sort of, um, uh, questioning certainly what is going on here? 

[INTERVIEW RECORDING] DUHAIME-ROSS:  Yeah. You're right. Anger was not the right word. I think was like a low level outrage.. 

[INTERVIEW RECORDING] CHRIS ROSS: Yeah 

DUHAIME-ROSS: but right from the get-go Dad, did not match any of my sentiments about any of this. 

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[INTERVIEW RECORDING] CHRIS ROSS: Um, I did not care because, um, first off I'm not a very religious person.

[INTERVIEW RECORDING] DUHAIME-ROSS: Dad, you're not religious at all. 

[INTERVIEW RECORDING] CHRIS ROSS: At all. That's right. I'm a bit of an agnostic atheist frankly. And, um, whether whether someone had baptized, uh, was baptizing, somebody who had died, it didn't affect me. From my point of view these people are dead. They are dead and gone and they're not going to come back. They aren't aware they are now baptized. So they don't care. And they having been baptized as a Mormon doesn't affect me personally. So why should I care? It doesn't affect society in a larger sense. So why should anybody care about this? 

It's it's a little bit like I'm, uh, I'm aware that this is an interview being published, but It's a little bit like smoking weed. You smoke it within your house. It doesn't affect anybody else. Then big deal. Go ahead and smoke. It's your, it's your problem. You know, it doesn't affect you.

[INTERVIEW RECORDING] DUHAIME-ROSS: I wish you had told me that when I was a teenager. You did not make your position clear at all.

JOINT LAUGHTER 

[MUSIC] 

DUHAIME-ROSS: ​​He immediately right off the bat was like, I don't know why you care about this. This seems ridiculous. 

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[INTERVIEW RECORDING] CHRIS ROSS: So. How do you find out after you're dead, when you are baptized or not? 

[INTERVIEW RECORDING] DUHAIME-ROSS: I know you're going to ask me questions. No, I know it's. This this is almost, this is ridiculous. good. It's totally ridiculous. Like, like I'll be dead. It doesn't matter. Again. Totally agree with you. So truly it is an absurd thing to care about. I agree with you. And yet I still do.

[MUSIC] 

DUHAIME-ROSS: I see my dad’s side of things. I know that when I’m dead, I won’t have opinions or thoughts about anything cause I’ll just be gone right. Totally gone. But right now, I am alive! And I have some thoughts! But my Dad got me thinking…am I worrying about nothing? Like why do I care so much?

[INTERVIEW RECORDING] CHRIS ROSS: The fact that you react so, I don't know strongly, but you are concerned about this means that maybe there's a little bit of religiosity somewhere very deep in your, in your, in your, in your head. I don't know.

[INTERVIEW RECORDING] DUHAIME-ROSS:  I think it's just, well, I, you know, you're giving me things to think about. But I do care about how I am perceived after I die. I do care about my history, the history that people will understand about my life. 

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[MUSIC OUT] 

[INTERVIEW RECORDING] CHRIS ROSS: I understand what you're saying, but the question in my mind is that to use the old cliche, are we not making a mountain out of a molehill? 

[INTERVIEW RECORDING] DUHAIME-ROSS: Maybe. 

[INTERVIEW RECORDING] CHRIS ROSS: In other words, who, apart from this particular, uh, church would even know that you were baptized. How did you find out for example, that my father was baptized in 2010?

[INTERVIEW RECORDING] DUHAIME-ROSS: And therein lies the whole deal for me, which is that I found out by looking at the family tree, that my distant cousin, Ronald Ross, created on ancestry.com.

[INTERVIEW RECORDING] CHRIS: Mmhm Hm. I suppose the question would be how the hell could that happen? 

[MUSIC] 

DUHAIME-ROSS: I don’t know my cousin, Ronald Ross. But, my Dad told me a little about him. Mainly that he grew up in Venezuela and now lives in Utah with his family. And that we are connected through my grandfather. Ronald’s grandfather and my grandfather were brothers. And now, Ronald is baptizing these ancestors that we share.

[INTERVIEW RECORDING] CHRIS: Maybe if I read about it from an intellectual point of view, I may be able to understand why they're doing, but at this point in time where I know very little, I just find it a little bit funny really. 

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[INTERVIEW RECORDING] DUHAIME-ROSS: Will you settle for a podcast episode about this instead of reading about it

[INTERVIEW RECORDING] CHRIS: Yeah. Yeah, I'd be interested hahah. I'd be interested in finding out about this. 

[INTERVIEW RECORDING] DUHAIME-ROSS: Okay. All right then, uh, then that's my next mission I'm going to go talk to this distant cousin of mine, Ronald Ross. And I'm going to try and find out more about how this works and, or also signal that I do not consent to being baptized after I die.

[MUSIC] 

[INTERVIEW RECORDING] RONALD:  they're being invited to make covenants with God. One of those covenants is to be baptized..  

[INTERVIEW RECORDING] DUHAIME-ROSS: Does that mean that there are people who are acting as missionaries in the spirit world?

[INTERVIEW RECORDING] RONALD : Yup. That's exactly how it works

DUHAIME-ROSS: After the break I talk to my cousin 

[MUSIC OUT]

MIDROLL

[INTERVIEW RECORDING] RONALD ROSS: Hey! 

[INTERVIEW RECORDING] DUHAIME-ROSS: Hi!

[INTERVIEW RECORDING] RONALD ROSS: How are you?

 [INTERVIEW RECORDING] DUHAIME-ROSS: I'm okay. How are you?

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[INTERVIEW RECORDING] RONALD ROSS: I'm doing good.

[INTERVIEW RECORDING] DUHAIME-ROSS: What'd you been up to today?

[INTERVIEW RECORDING] RONALD ROSS: So I play the guitar a little bit in the morning. My daughters and my wife 

DUHAIME-ROSS: So I called my cousin, Ronald Ross. And, I was pretty nervous.  I didn't want him to feel bad necessarily. At this point we've like emailed back and forth.  He's been sending me pictures of his family. Like I'm starting to get the sense that like, this guy is a family member. 

[BEAT]

[INTERVIEW RECORDING] DUHAIME-ROSS: First off, Ronald, can you explain how you and I are related?

[INTERVIEW RECORDING] RONALD ROSS: Ok so If I understand correctly, so Christopher Ross, your grandfather is my grandfather's brother. 

DUHAIME-ROSS: ​​My grandfather and his grandfather were brothers. And they grew up in what at the time was called British Guyana in the Caribbean. But my side of the family ended up moving to Trinidad and Tobago and then to Canada, where I grew up. Whereas, Ronald's side they basically stayed in Guyana and eventually moved to Venezuela. 

[INTERVIEW RECORDING] RONALD ROSS:  Yeah so my dad, he married, um, two times. The first time he had four children. Um and the second time he had seven. I'm the youngest of that second marriage. 

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[INTERVIEW RECORDING] DUHAIME-ROSS: What I'm curious about is how your branch of the family become Mormon? 

[INTERVIEW RECORDING] RONALD ROSS: So that's kind of a, a funny story. My parents were living in Venezuela. And my dad used to teach private English classes.So. The missionaries from the church, which I'm sure you've seen the ones that have their name tags on the pocket. And they, they were going around and knocking doors. And my sisters, they thought they were students, hah so they let them in. And then my dad came out like, who are these guys hah and then, you know, they were polite enough to let them share a message and they got really interested in what they had to say. And in a few months they joined the church after that  

[INTERVIEW RECORDING] DUHAIME-ROSS: Wow, 

DUHAIME-ROSS: So Ronald is, essentially like a, a conversion success story. Ronald was born in 1984, after his parents converted.  And so he was raised from the get-go into the LDS church, but he didn’t get to visit a temple until he was a teenager. 

[INTERVIEW RECORDING] RONALD ROSS: I was so excited to go to the temple I remember I travel in a bus. By myself as a teenager, it was about six hours away from where I used to live. I went into the temple and he was just as special and beautiful as I had heard it would be.

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DUHAIME-ROSS: And it was during this very first visit to a Mormon temple that Ronald got his first chance to act as a proxy in a baptism for the dead.

[INTERVIEW RECORDING] RONALD ROSS: I saw some people dressed in white, some youth and adults waiting their turns to going into the baptismal font and get baptized. Um, I waited for my turn went into the pool, into the font. The water was warm. It was really nice to be there. It just felt like, I didn't know the person that they were baptizing me for, but it felt like I was doing the right thing. 

[MUSIC]

DUHAIME-ROSS: At this point hasn't done all of this research into our family yet. And so instead he gets baptized for somebody that he doesn't know.

As Ronald gets older, he actually stays pretty close to his faith. For a few he’s actually served as a Bishop in Venezuela. And ultimately he moves to Utah, which is the epicenter of the LDS church.

Eventually, I got around to asking Ronald how members of our family ending up getting baptized. 

[INTERVIEW RECORDING] RONALD ROSS: So in the case of my father, I believe he got baptized for my grandfather so that would be Frederick Isaac Arbuthnot Ross 

DUHAIME-ROSS: ​​ So Ronald's parents baptized a bunch of our family members and then Ronald himself takes up this mantle too, and he starts doing the same thing. He starts building these family trees and combing through records, trying to find these family members

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[INTERVIEW RECORDING] DUHAIME-ROSS: How many members our family have you personally done this baptism for.. You know, our dead relatives? 

[INTERVIEW RECORDING] RONALD ROSS: I would say it's been like 20 or more. MUSIC STARTS CREEPING IN That's the ones that I have done. My wife has done some for the females. 

[INTERVIEW RECORDING] DUHAIME-ROSS: Did you baptize my grandfather Christopher Ross?

[INTERVIEW RECORDING] RONALD ROSS: ummm I can tell you, um, in a second, you’re asking about Chris, right? 

[INTERVIEW RECORDING] DUHAIME-ROSS: Yea Christpher Ross, my Dad’s Dad

[INTERVIEW RECORDING] RONALD ROSS: Yeah. Christopher Sills Aburthnott Ross. Okay. So, yeah most likely I did it. Because it was in Caracas. And it was in 2010. And yeah I would be 80% sure it was me. 

[INTERVIEW RECORDING] RONALD ROSS: How do you feel about that?

[INTERVIEW RECORDING] DUHAIME-ROSS: Well, I mean, honestly, it gave me pause, when I saw it. It's nice for me to see how happy it makes you. 

[INTERVIEW RECORDING] RONALD ROSS: Okay 

[INTERVIEW RECORDING] DUHAIME-ROSS: And also when I first looked into this, I think I had some strong feelings about it, maybe like a shock.

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[INTERVIEW RECORDING] RONALD ROSS: Right. Whether they decide to accept it or not, it’s going to be a choice, and I think it’s really nice that it’s a choice.

[MUSIC]

[INTERVIEW RECORDING] DUHAIME-ROSS: Yeah 

[INTERVIEW RECORDING] RONALD ROSS:  I don't think I would like it in my mind I'm doing it for you, whether you like it or not, you're going to baptized. We're not even counting them in the membership of the Church, but the fact that we believe they're being taught, and they have the choice to accept this baptism or not, it's a very important element of this history of why we are doing baptism for the dead. 

[INTERVIEW RECORDING] DUHAIME-ROSS: If I were to tell you that my father said that he thinks Christopher Ross the man that you baptized my grandfather that he would have been very upset about this. What’s your reaction to that?

[INTERVIEW RECORDING] RONALD ROSS: You know, I think we can think what they might think. But there, there is a different story on what they actually think.  I've seen people change in so many ways being here, here on Earth. imagine that someone says that, you know, when I die, there's nothing else, but you die and you find yourself somewhere else. So that may cause, you to have a shift of paradigm and you might reconsider certain things. So if I know it has been so good for me, for my family and I believe it can be great for them, I'm going to do it. And I'm going to hope for the best...

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[MUSIC]

[INTERVIEW RECORDING] DUHAIME-ROSS: Well let me ask you this. Do you think that, gosh, one of your daughters' or one of your daughters daughter’s might one day baptize me after I'm dead?

[INTERVIEW RECORDING] RONALD ROSS: I think it's probable. 

[INTERVIEW RECORDING] DUHAIME-ROSS: So, what bothers me isn't necessarily the baptism itself. It is the fact that then somebody could see that. Let's just say your daughters take up your ancestry account and then put my name in there, baptize me it's in there. What bothers me is that somebody could misinterpret it as that I was a religious person, that I was part of any church while I was alive. 

[INTERVIEW RECORDING] RONALD ROSS: Right

[INTERVIEW RECORDING] DUHAIME-ROSS: And I'm, I'm really attached to the idea of being perceived accurately. 

[INTERVIEW RECORDING] RONALD ROSS: Right. One of the things that I've noticed Arielle is that misinterpretation is everywhere. And I'm not saying your concerns are not valid.. And in the church website, you can do a quick search about baptism for the dead and you can immediately see that this is a choice that people have after they passed away. 

[INTERVIEW RECORDING] DUHAIME-ROSS: I say this with like, I want to say love, cause I actually do like, I'm like, you're like my cousin, But I don't, I don't think I buy that answer. I don't think I buy it because

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[INTERVIEW RECORDING] RONALD ROSS: you don't have to,

[INTERVIEW RECORDING] DUHAIME-ROSS: I think it's like, I just don't want that baptism documented publicly 

[INTERVIEW RECORDING] RONALD ROSS: And that’s your choice, and that's okay.

[INTERVIEW RECORDING] DUHAIME-ROSS: I wish there was a way for me to tell the church and for me to tell your daughters and your daughter's daughters and your daughter's daughters, I don't want this, but not not the baptism itself. That’s, I can let that go. I don't want it documented publicly.

[INTERVIEW RECORDING] RONALD ROSS: You know what, I really appreciate the fact. The fact that you say I can let that pass, the baptism, because let's say I'm right. Let's just say that. 

[INTERVIEW RECORDING] DUHAIME-ROSS: Hahah. We can get into that. We can get into that. 

[INTERVIEW RECORDING] RONALD ROSS: And that I let's say that

[INTERVIEW RECORDING] DUHAIME-ROSS: Uh huh. Let’s hypothetically say you're right and there is an afterlife, yes.

[INTERVIEW RECORDING] RONALD ROSS: It would be great to see you there and to see you and you for you to tell me, Ronald dude, thank you so much.

[INTERVIEW RECORDING] DUHAIME-ROSS: Oh my God. 

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[MUSIC]

[INTERVIEW RECORDING] DUHAIME-ROSS: If we want to do that thought process  I still have some concerns and my concerns are that the Mormon Church doesn't have a great history when it comes to black people. Or queer people. 

[INTERVIEW RECORDING] RONALD ROSS: Yep.

[INTERVIEW RECORDING] DUHAIME-ROSS:  Like if there is an afterlife, do I get to be gay in heaven? Do I get to have my wife with me as my wife in heaven? 

[INTERVIEW RECORDING] RONALD ROSS: That's a question that I do not dare to answer, not even, uh, because I'm not a spokesman of the church. Uh, but I think God will be fair. 

And if you are making efforts to be a good person that will not be taken for granted. I assure you that.  

[MUSIC]

DUHAIME-ROSS: We went around and around like this for a while. You know, Ronald had his best intentions, right, he wanted to get me into heaven. But honestly, It was during this call that it clicked for me, like why I don’t want this. It feels disrespectful to me. I don't want to be part of a religion that doesn't actually want me, my full self, while I’m alive, and the fact that they could decide that they can claim me after I die, feels like an insult. That's what it feels like to me, even now. And so, this isn’t about my cousin who was really kind to me on this call. It's about the Church. And… my posterity. I’m almost embarrassed to say that, but I guess but like my legacy right. How I am remembered. I don’t want to be associated with a religion that doesn’t want me as I am. 

[MUSIC]

[INTERVIEW RECORDING] DUHAIME-ROSS: Well I will tell you this, if there is an afterlife and I'm wrong and I encounter a missionary. And they ask me if I want to be baptized, I will say no with an immense amount of respect and love in my heart because of this conversation I had with you. 

[INTERVIEW RECORDING] RONALD ROSS: I hope you, you're the answer that you'll give to that missionary in the afterlife, if you do. Um it's not because of this conversation, it’s after a careful review of all the things that, you know, now that you've known, and that you will know in the future.

[INTERVIEW RECORDING] DUHAIME-ROSS: Hmm mmhm I will make an informed decision I promise.  

[INTERVIEW RECORDING] RONALD ROSS: Good. Good.

[MUSIC]

[INTERVIEW RECORDING] DUHAIME-ROSS: Okay. So wait, after, after this entire conversation that we've had, would you still want to spend eternity with me?

[INTERVIEW RECORDING] RONALD ROSS: Of course. Why not?

[INTERVIEW RECORDING] DUHAIME-ROSS: I don't know, just checking ha ha. 

[MUSIC OUT] 

[INTERVIEW RECORDING] RONALD ROSS: Did I sound, did I hesitate? Was I hesitant?

[INTERVIEW RECORDING] DUHAIME-ROSS: No not at all. I believe you. 

[INTERVIEW RECORDING] RONALD ROSS: Yes of course. Yeah. I want to play guitar with you in heaven.

CREDIT

Special thanks to Ian Bell 

VICE News Reports is produced by Jesse Alejandro Cottrell, Sophie Kazis, Jen Kinney, Janice Llamoca, Julia Nutter, and Sayre Quevedo. Our senior producers are Ashley Cleek and Adizah Eghan. Our associate producers are Steph Brown, Sam Eagan, and Adreanna Rodriguez. Sound Design and music composition by Steve Bone, Pran Bandi, Natasha Jacobs and Kyle Murdock. 

Our executive producer and VP of Vice Audio is Kate Osborn. Janet Lee is Senior Production Manager for VICE Audio. 

Fact Checking by Nicole Pasulka. 

Our theme music is by Steve Bone 

From iHeart executive producers Nikki Ettore and Lindsay Hoffman. 

I’m Arielle Duhaime Ross. 

I know podcast hosts say this constantly but for real, please rate and review the pod. It really helps people find the show. VICE News Reports drops every Thursday, so be sure to check back in next week. 

DUHAIME-ROSS: But honestly, like even thinking about it now, I kind of like, I really don't want an afterlife. Like I'm going to be tired when I'm dead. Like I'm going to be so tired and like, can this just end already? Like, why does anybody want an afterlife? Like it just like my God life is exhausting.