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Peremptory

per·emp·to·ry
pəˈrem(p)t(ə)rē/
adjective
  1. (especially of a person’s manner or actions) insisting on immediate attention or obedience, especially in a brusquely imperious way.
  2. not open to appeal or challenge; final.

In Cardston, Alberta, fewer than twenty miles north of the U.S.-Canadian border, the LDS church built its first temple outside the United States. For those not familiar with LDS (a.k.a. Mormon) practice, the church is possibly more centripetal even than the church in Rome and the First Presidency may wield more power than the popes, trickling downward through an hierarchy of bishops, stake presidents and ultimately to its lay membership. A “ward” is the equivalent of a parish; a “stake” is the counterpart to a diocese — more or less. Temples, however, are not at all like cathedrals.

LDS temples are reserved for “temple ordinances” and are not open to the general non-Mormon public, except for a few days prior to their dedication. From that point forward, only Mormons in good standing, members with a “temple recommend” from their stake president, are able to enter. What you might well ask goes on within those very sacred walls?

Ordinances include a number of things well outside the experience of non-LDS. Sealing of marriages for “time and eternity” are among them. As is the ordinance of baptism for the dead: extending the benefits of LDS salvation for those who died prior to establishment of the new dispensation.

mormon-temple-baptistery-700x539

Pope & Burton

Hyrum Pope and Harold Burton established their architectural practice in Salt Lake City about 1910 and almost immediately won competitions for two significant commissions: the LDS temples in both Alberta and Hawai’i. For a kid like me from Chicago, these two buildings have special interest, since they each exemplify the best characteristics of the Prairie Style associated with Frank Lloyd Wright and a host of other overlooked Midwest Progressive architects from the years before World War I. Since each of these buildings was built (and therefore dedicated) before my time, I’ve often sought interior photographs of spaces I am unlikely ever to see. You can see hints of Prairie School detailing in the column caps behind the magnificent baptismal font in the photo above.

Since the nature of temple ordinances are largely unknown to outsiders — secrets having the power that they do over the uninitiated — I’ve read a bit about baptism of the dead. [Why else do you imagine the Mormons have a corner on the genealogy market?] Howard seems more than a little miffed about the prospect of posthumous baptism, witness a recent letter to his sister Catherine in Vermont:

Dear Cat —

Rowan and I are dealing with mortality this week. I thought you’d be curious—and amused.

We had an appointment with Milt Subotnik (Jack’s attorney whom you met at Thanksgiving) and seem to have it under control. The complications of a living trust aren’t worth the extra cost, so this will be a straightforward affair: You, Jim, and the kids are in line for a modest amount, just ahead of all our favorite charities, like animal welfare and others you’d approve. There isn’t much to begin with, anyway, so don’t plan a cruise or a new wing on the house.

We’d just returned from Milt’s office when two freshly squoze Mormon missionaries rang the bell, eager to share their faith.  We’ve been around this block more than once, so I satisfied my curiosity about one of their more unusual beliefs: baptizing the dead.

There was a news item a few years ago about LDS enthusiasm for retroactive baptism. I’d always thought their preoccupation with genealogy meant their ancestors were the only targets. But it seems anyone is fair game and the more prominent, the better. Apparently George Washington is now a Mormon and possibly Jefferson (who’d be offended) and Ben Franklin (who’d be amused). They went too far, though, when Hitler got his key to the Telestial Kingdom. Holocaust victims—like Anne Franck—were the last straw. So the church entered some sort of agreement with Jewish organizations that this obnoxious practice would stop. Rowan and I processed this after the boys had gone but I still can’t put my finger on what’s so offensive.

When I’m gone, I’m gone. That’s all there is to it. My eyes will close; consciousness will fade and a.s.a.p. it’s off to the ovens. Rowan will put my ashes to some high purpose. Why am I angry that some stranger’s sleight of hand will Mormonize me? I will be long past caring. It will do me no harm, because there won’t be any “me.” But philosophically there is something invasively grotesque, like retroactive rape. It’s unlikely anyone outside our family will research my life. But the thought they could believe I’d chosen LDS salvation (or any other for that matter) is obscene. There’s just one solution: INJUNCTION!

Before he completes our wills, Milt is going to file an injunction at the Salt Lake County courthouse in Utah enjoining the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints from invoking my name in any religious ritual intended to “save” me. With that in place, I’ll sleep more safely until, as Milt Subotnik says, “I lay down for the ‘dirt nap.'”

My best to Jim and the kids. We’ll see you in late May when the school year is over.

Howard


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