“Behold I say unto you that this thing shall ye teach—repentance and baptism unto those who are accountable and capable of committing sin…” (Moroni 8:10)
In the Church we believe the age of accountability to be eight years of age. This is the supposed age when a person understands right vs. wrong and is therefore accountable for their actions. In other words, they are now able to sin. Therefore, they are now in need of baptism.
But what about those who have reached the age of accountability but have no concept of right and wrong?
I have a six-and-a-half year-old nephew with Down Syndrome, named Elam. He is a wonderful, happy, kid who has blessed the lives of those around him. But, he has very little concept of what is right and what is wrong despite my brother and sister-in-law’s constant and loving parenting.
Now, Elam is going to turn eight here in about 18 months and will be “eligible” for baptism. My question isn’t can he be baptized, but rather should he be baptized.
You might say, “Yes, it’s alright. It just won’t mean anything, like a child taking the Sacrament.”
At first, I would buy this statement, until giving it more thought. Had I married a Catholic who would allow our children to be baptized at age eight, but only if they were also baptized as infants in the Catholic Church, I would not do it.
Add to that, a reading of the eighth chapter of Moroni. Simply replace “little children” with “mentally handicapped” or whatever phrase you prefer. We then read the following:
v.14 Behold I say unto you, that he that supposeth that [the mentally handicapped] need baptism is in the gall of bitterness and in the bonds of iniquity; for he hath neither faith, hope, nor charity; wherefore, should he be cut off while in the thought, he must go down to hell.
v.19 [The mentally handicapped] cannot repent; wherefore, it is awful wickedness to deny the pure mercies of God unto them, for they are all alive in him because of his mercy.
v.21 Wo unto such, for they are in danger of death, hell, and an endless torment.
v.23 But it is mockery before God, denying the mercies of Christ, and the power of his Holy Spirit, and putting trust in dead works.
Pretty strong warnings.
Now, if you are thinking I am wrong and that we should baptize them, I have one more thing. Should we be proselitizing to the mentally handicapped?
I don’t think we can have it both ways. If they need baptism, we need to baptize them. If they don’t need it, we shouldn’t do it.