The Estonian Evangelical Lutheran Church is lambasting the Ministry of the Interior for allowing the Mormon Church access to records that may be being used to re-baptize deceased Estonians.
Estonian Lutherans are not happy with the state’s cooperation agreement with the U.S.-based Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints that allows the copying of Estonian state archives to Mormon databases, the Baltic Reports website reported last week.
The arrangement has been in place since the early 1990s, with the ministry receiving millions of Estonian krooni from the Mormon Church in exchange for the access. The ministry, Tallinn City Archive and Estonian Historical Archives signed a contract with the Genealogical Society of Utah, a nonprofit run by the Mormon Church that is dedicated to preserving the records of the families to help people connect with their ancestors by facilitating easy access to historical records.
Money was not the only benefit to Estonia, as the Mormon Church did all the legwork to digitalize the data and make it available for Estonians to trace their ancestry and find out about their family’s past.
State archivist Priit Pirsko told the Postimees newspaper that the state had started an online archive but concluded that “the Mormons’ technological capability is tens of times greater, so we made them a proposal to exchange digital copies.”
Erki Koiv, director of Estonian branch of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints told the Postimees newspaper that his church is doing “services for those who are dead.”
“We believe that all people should be baptized and one opportunity is to do it on Earth,” Koiv said, adding that baptism services are done for the dead as well as the living.
The prospect of re-baptizing deceased Estonian Lutherans has the Estonian Evangelical Lutheran Church in uproar.
Arho Tuhkru, a spokesman for the Estonian Evangelical Lutheran Church said on Wednesday that the motive of the Mormons in keeping the records is dubious.
“The reason that they committed their activities for the dead as well is not justified,” Tuhkru told Baltic Reports. “Their theological justification and appeal to free will is clumsy.”
Tuhkru explained that as church records belonged to their congregations previously before being archived by the state under the Soviet regime, it would have been natural for the government to ask permission from the Evangelical Lutheran Church as well as Roman Catholic Church.
“Who would want that our grandmothers and grandfathers would be re-baptized or used in other unclear methods?” Tuhkru said.
The Mormon practice of baptizing deceased people of other religions is controversial internationally and has been decried by Jewish groups, among others.