My father has never been antagonistic to the church exactly. For all intents and purposes, he appears to have been indifferent. He never objected when we went, attended when something important happened, and generally refrained from criticizing the aspects of it to which he objected. He has reportedly even told neighbors that if he was to join any church, it would likely be ours.
We have had a whole slew of missionaries come through the house. Sometimes he has liked them; usually he hasn’t. He’ll generally tolerate them through a meal, sit and listen to their lesson, and then disappear into a back room until they leave. I don’t think that he has ever taken a discussion; it is possible that he has never been interested.
During my mission, he started attending church with my Mom (it was really the first time she had had to go alone in a long time). Mom reported that he had started reading the Book of Mormon. In our eagerness for this development (long overdue in all our minds), we peppered Dad with so many questions (mine via mail) that we quickly overwhelmed his patience and he stopped reading to get us off his back. That period may have been the closest my father will ever come to joining the church and his family contributed to his turning away then.
We are told that there is no such thing as a death-bed confession. The spirit that inhabits the body in this life will be the same that in the next. We’ve also been told that this life is the time. My father is forty years older than me, has suffered pancreatitis and a heart attack. We are often told that there is hope for the parents of wayward children, what is there for the children of wayward parents?
I am not sure that my father will join the church before he dies. I used to be sure he would, but his mortality bears more and more upon me. He still isn’t interested in the church after 40 some-odd years in close contact with it. I (and the other family members) often wonder if it is our fault. Was there something we could have done to be a better example? Have we failed to offer testimony when the moment was right? Did our reaction that one time (when I was on my mission) ruin his one chance? If he dies, will he get another?
The scriptures are sufficiently ambiguous on this point. The whole point of the work for the dead is to help those who couldn’t help themselves. Does my father fall in this category? He has known about the church for a while; does his refusal to learn more constitute a rejection of knowledge or a simple ignorance of how important the gospel is? I know that he knows that we think the Gospel is important, but that’s hearsay right?
If my father dies before he joins the church, we will have him baptized vicariously. He knows this. Does his refusal now mean that he will refuse then? If we do it, are we disrespecting his wishes? Or giving him an opportunity that he couldn’t take advantage of in life?
This is a lot of mystery surrounding our beliefs about the work among the dead. I’ll be posting on it on occasion for the next little while, if for no other reason than that I am worried about my dad. I love him and I wouldn’t mind hanging out with him for an eternity or two.