Baptizing the royal family

By June 29, 2013

This post is part of International Mormonism month.

A little over a year ago, newspaper headlines in the Netherlands read:

Screen shot 2013-06-29 at 11.35.39 AM
Translated, this reads, ‘Mormons baptize house of Oranges posthumously.'[1] Among others, the former queens Emma, Wilhelmina and Juliana were baptized, as was prince Claus and prince Bernhard. Interestingly enough, prince Claus was proxy baptized in 2004, two years after his death, in a Brazilian temple, not the Dutch one. The story then refers to the official policy of only proxy baptizing your own ancestors, but acknowledges that not all Mormons adhere to that practice–I’m sure we all remember the controversies surrounding the proxy baptisms of prominent and less prominent Jews, both Holocaust victims and not.

What I find most interesting about this story is that it hit most major news outlets within a couple days (so it was interesting enough to be carried widely), and that most stories contained an error, claiming that the proxy baptism made the royals members of the Mormon church. Though some sources did cite Mormon doctrine more or less correctly, many had most obviously not done their homework. The newspaper Trouw ran the following paragraph (translated by me):

Several members of the Dutch Royal Family have posthumously been made members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Members of the church (better known as Mormons) proxy baptized prince Claus, prince Bernhard, and princess Juliana with that objective.

The whole affair even led to questions being asked in parliament and reported in Trouw, as several regional archives were allowing members of the LDS church access to birth, death, and marriage certificates: the members would digitize them for the archives, reducing the archives’ spending by several hundred thousand euros. Several politicians found this unacceptable because of privacy issues, waving aside the matter of public record and citing privacy concerns. Ger Koopmans, a member of the centrist, theoretically Christian party CDA, argued against the practice in the following manner, “The government cannot prevent this religious hocus-pocus, but they can stop enabling it.”[2] Another representative called the practice of posthumously baptizing people “occult and obscure.” [2]

This surprised me back then, and it surprises me now, because Trouw has Dutch Protestant roots, and as late as 2005 affirmed that they intended to “remain a newspaper rooted in a Christian tradition and to be a source of contemplation and inspiration for everyone, churchgoer or not, who feels a need for moral and spiritual orientation.”[2] It is not one of the Netherlands’ more sectarian Protestant newspapers, but rather known for a broad array of articles that have something to do with religion, philosophy, or otherwise inspired attempts at moral living. I had not expected a newspaper like that to invoke a kind of horror-story narrative, in which there is no escaping the Mormons since they can just claim you as Mormon any time they want after your death. [4] And I had certainly not expected the words “occult and obscure” and “religious hocus-pocus” to be politically acceptable rhetoric or quoted as such.

This post isn’t meant as a indictment of Dutch society–obvious problems aside, the Netherlands is a pretty good place to live. But the Netherlands does have an at times problematic relationship with religion, seen most often in the debates surrounding the integration of Muslim immigrants and the “head scarf problem.” While that is a whole different issue, it seems to me that the specter of the religious ‘other,’ whether exemplified by Mormons or Muslims, once again demonstrates how problematic it is for the Netherlands to claim its famous Dutch tolerance.


[1] By the way, our royal family is of the house of Orange-Nassau. In Dutch, “oranje” (orange) refers to the color, not to the fruit.

Article filed under International Mormonism


  1. Interesting. Thanks, Saskia.

    Comment by jjohnson — June 29, 2013 @ 5:09 am

  2. “the Netherlands is a pretty good place to live.”

    Yea, verily.

    Interesting post. Thanks.

    Comment by Edje Jeter — June 29, 2013 @ 8:12 am


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