President Obama’s mother, Stanley Ann Dunham, was recently baptized by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (aka the Mormons).
She’s been dead for 14 years.
This is an example of the bizarre practice of the Mormon church called “baptism for the dead,” in which Mormons posthumously baptize people by proxy. (Many people don’t realize that this is a primary impetus for their famed genealogy work; as they discover their ancestors they perform these proxy baptisms for them.)
I had some discussions with Mormon missionaries recently, and when this topic came up their sole source for this belief is 1 Corinthians 15:28-29:
When everything is subjected to him, then the Son himself will (also) be subjected to the one who subjected everything to him, so that God may be all in all.
Otherwise, what will people accomplish by having themselves baptized for the dead? If the dead are not raised at all, then why are they having themselves baptized for them?
There are many problems with the Mormon exegesis of this passage (for one, nowhere does Paul actually condone the practice, he just mentions it in the context of another discussion), but I think the bigger problem is that this is an extreme example of sola scriptura (which is ironic, since Mormons claim to reject sola scriptura). Nowhere is there any evidence that the Christian Church practiced a “baptism for the dead” at any time in its history. Furthermore, the Church’s practice of baptism has never allowed for a “proxy” in the place of the recipient, especially in a situation in which the recipient doesn’t even know about it! This would run counter to the underlying reason for baptism, i.e. one’s personal inclusion into the family of God. And baptizing a dead person is contrary to the teaching of Scripture that baptism brings new life to the believer. Yet in spite of all this the Mormon church yanks this verse out of context and develops an entire doctrine out of it (this is similar to the fundamentalist invention of the “rapture”).
The Catholic understanding of Divine Revelation is more holistic: we believe that there are two means by which revelation has come to us – Scripture and Tradition – and we believe that, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, the Church is the authoritative teacher of that revelation. This three-pronged approach helps to prevent such egregious cases of ripping verses out of the context of the life of the Church. Read Dei Verbum for a beautiful exposition of the Church’s understanding of Divine Revelation.
For a more detailed explanation of the problems with “baptism for the dead,” see this page from Catholic Answers.