Mormon Bishop Is on a Mission To Promote Jewish Missionaries
Interfaith activist Mark Paredes tries to boost understanding between the two religions—and to encourage Jewish proselytizing
At the same time, if a Jew or anyone else with ancestors who perished in the Holocaust converts to the LDS Church, they continue to baptize those forebears. Paredes likes to explain the necessity of this act with an interfaith metaphor: “Asking a Mormon not to baptize their ancestors would be like asking a Jew not to circumcise their sons.” Like brit milah for Jews, in other words, baptizing one’s ancestors is a foundational component of membership in the LDS Church. “We believe that heaven is composed of families that are linked together through the eternities, and that if you break that link, you’re asking a Mormon not to link himself to his ancestors,” said Paredes. “It’s just something that’s unthinkable, really, for a believing Mormon.” This explanation is typical of Paredes’ ecumenical approach, which employs the language of one faith to speak effectively to the other.
Paredes’ most provocative attempt to reach across religious lines is his long-running campaign to convince Jews to begin actively proselytizing, much as Mormons do by sending their youth on missions around the world. “I’m a very active missionary for the idea that Jews should be missionaries,” he said. He maintains that doing so would solve a key problem that preoccupies today’s Jewish leadership: the attrition of the younger generation. For one thing, missionary work would help replenish the ranks. For another, the very act of training the youth to spread their faith and values would have the effect of strengthening their connection to Judaism, just as serving on multiyear missions solidifies the commitment of young Mormons. “It works for us, and there’s no reason it can’t work for Judaism,” he said.
For some time, Paredes’ call for an army of Jewish missionaries appeared to be somewhat quixotic. But in recent days, it has gotten an unexpected boost from prominent voices in the Jewish community, from celebrity Rabbi Shmuley Boteach to The Forward editorial board, which called for pursuing more converts to Judaism and drew explicit inspiration from Mormonism. “Standing up for Jewish tradition in public space—actively inviting people to consider becoming Jewish—would be a blessing to the many non-Jews who are interested in becoming Jewish,” Nigel Savage, the president of the Jewish nonprofit Hazon, wrote earlier this month. “It would also be the clearest possible signal to our own young people that we are proud of being Jewish.”
For his part, Paredes hopes that such proposals are put into practice. After all, he said, “I think it would be a great thing if there were more Jews in the world.”
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