The Church's efforts in family history are "further evidence of our testimony that this great work is not only true, but important a matter of spiritual life and death," said Elder Spencer J. Condie.
Elder Condie of the Seventy, who addressed BYU's annual Genealogy and Family History Conference July 31, noted that these efforts include the more than 3,700 family history centers, the Family History Library, and the Church's FamilyHistory Internet site, which receives an average of 8 million hits a day. Some 530 people from across the United States and some from other countries attended the four-day conference, July 31-Aug. 3, 2001.
Elder Condie explained why the Church goes to great efforts regarding family history. "The plan of salvation, whereby God's spiritual offspring come to earth, learn the doctrines of the kingdom of God, participate in the various ordinances and keep God's commandments in order to qualify to regain His presence, is known by many names, including the Plan of Mercy.
"But how can it be one of mercy if it requires every accountable individual to be baptized when there are literally billions of individuals who have died without having had the opportunity to hear of the gospel and become baptized?" he asked. "Surely this would be neither merciful nor just."
The plan includes justice, but there are "some softer qualities of divine justice, including equity and fairness," he said. "In the divine, cosmic scheme of things it would simply be unfair and unjust to require baptism of all while denying most of the people who have lived upon the earth the opportunity to actually become baptized.
"The Spirit of Elijah is truly brooding over the earth as millions of names of deceased individuals are submitted to holy temples where vicarious ordinances of baptism, confirmation ordination to the Melchizedek Priesthood for men, the endowment and sealing can be performed so that, just as Peter taught, the dead 'might be judged according to men in the flesh, but live in the spirit according to the will of God." (1 Peter 4:6.)
He said this practice raises questions among some. One of these questions is what happens if the person for whom the ordinance is performed does not repent and accept the ordinances?
"No one will be coerced into accepting ordinances performed by another," said Elder Condie. "However, if these ordinances are not performed vicariously, the deceased person will have no choice either to accept or reject the ordinance."
Another question is why ordinances are performed for those who in their lifetimes had little inclination to keep the commandments. After citing scriptural examples of repentance, including those of Amulek of the Book of Mormon, Elder Condie said, "It would be wise for all of us to hold in abeyance our judgement to the Judge of us all."
He told of a prison inmate who had repented for major offences. He commented, "From my experience I can comprehend how a person [suffering for sin] could bleed from every pore. What amazes me most is, How did the Savior not die [from the suffering]? I know that my small payment of my sins would have totally killed me if I were allowed to feel them all at the same time."
Elder Condie concluded, "May each of us continue to minister to those beyond the veil through bringing forth our book of remembrance containing the names and relevant information of all of the ancestors we are able to locate and for whom we are able to perform vicarious ordinances that we may be 'the means of bringing salvation unto them' for the dead who repent will be redeemed, through obedience to the ordinances of the house of God." (Doctrine and Covenants 138:58.)