It’s a meeting of two presidents today, one the head of the United States of America and the other the international leader of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, whose members are often called Mormons informally. President Monson will present President Obama with a four-volume history of his family, a gift commonly prepared for presidents and for many other world leaders.
A meeting with church leaders was originally scheduled earlier in the year. However, when President Hinckley, who was then president of the Church, died, the funeral was scheduled for the same day as President Obama’s trip to Utah. President Obama respectfully bowed out of the meeting, although his wife came for a visit with church leaders later on.
When President Obama was inaugurated, President Dieter F. Uchtdorf, second counselor in the First Presidency, and Elder M. Russell Ballard of the Quorum of the Twelve represented the church. President Uchtdorf said afterwards, “”It was a great experience we had — to see a unity there that I hope will last on and continue throughout the years of this administration.” Elder Ballard said, “”I left with a feeling that the people of America are going to unite behind this new president and his administration and that we need to pray for him. We need to exercise our prayers and help him accomplish the great objectives that he has set.” (See Mormon Times, “LDS leaders feel ‘deep emotion’ at inauguration” by Scott Taylor for the entire story.)
Mormons teach that family life can continue on after death, and so they do family history work as part of their religion. These are their own family members, people with whom they will spend eternity, and they consider it important to get to know them.
In addition, Mormons teach that a loving God would not punish a person simply because he did not have an opportunity to learn the gospel and decide whether or not he wanted to live it. Since the Bible teaches that baptism is required for salvation, as is accepting Jesus into a person’s life, many people would be unfairly denied an opportunity for salvation if their lives didn’t happen to lead them to someone who could teach them the truth. Mormons do not believe God is unfair.
Mormons believe each person will, to satisfy justice and mercy, must be given the opportunity to learn truth and choose whether or not to accept it. Those who die are taught the truth and, after they’ve been dead at least one year, a living person who is directly related to the deceased person can submit that person’s genealogical information. Then a living person, acting as proxy, can be baptized and confirmed for that person. However, this does not automatically make that person a Mormon. If he had learned the gospel during his lifetime, he would have been able to agree to or reject the truth. Even some who come to know what they are being taught is true choose not to accept church membership and the responsibilities of discipleship to the Savior that come with that membership.
The same is true of those who die and learn of the gospel after death. Although at that point in time, they will clearly know what is true and what isn’t, some will prefer not to accept it. Therefore, simply having a proxy ordinance done does not make that person a Mormon. This is a choice he must make for himself, because agency, the right to choose, is central to the Creator’s plan for us. If the deceased person rejects the ordinance, it is as if it was never performed.
While President Obama may not choose to use his genealogy for this purpose, it is certain he will find it interesting to explore his ancestors, some of whom were among the earliest settlers of this country. He is, in fact, descended through the same Hinckley line as Gordon B. Hinckley, former president of the The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
(See his genealogy—not the one the church is presenting–on Wargs.com.)