The LDS Church is a lay organization: nearly every job within it is held by a member and not by professional clergy. From a young age, Mormon children are prepped to take on these leadership roles. Starting at the age of 5, they are expected to speak in church on simple spiritual and theological topics. At 8, they’re baptized. At 12, boys become “deacons”; they prepare and eventually serve the sacramental bread and water at worship services. Around that time, children can also do “proxy baptisms,” or baptisms for the dead. (These are mostly done on behalf of Mormons’ own ancestors, but they became controversial about a decade ago when it was discovered that they were also being done for dead Holocaust victims. The church ceased the practice, wherever possible.)
When asked by Newsweek if he has done baptisms for the dead—in which Mormons find the names of dead people of all faiths and baptize them, as an LDS representative says, to “open the door” to the highest heaven—he looked slightly startled and answered, “I have in my life, but I haven’t recently.” The awareness of how odd this will sound to many Americans is what makes Romney hesitant to elaborate on the Mormon question.
Newsweek and The Daily Beast's Howard Kurtz and Michelle Cottle on how Romney's comments about baptizing the dead plays into his presidential campaign.