“Should mentally retarded children be baptized?” Ensign, Apr. 1976, 33
Josiah Douglas, supervisor of Special Curriculum for the Church The Lord has said that a normal child begins to become accountable before him “when eight years old.” (D&C 68:27.) He is held accountable before God for his acts because he knows right from wrong and can use his agency to choose and do good or evil.
The Lord said in D&C 29:46–47: “But behold, I say unto you, that little children are redeemed from the foundation of the world through mine Only Begotten;
“Wherefore, they cannot sin, for power is not given unto Satan to tempt little children, until they begin to become accountable before me.” Children who develop normally begin to become accountable at eight years old and should be baptized. What should be the procedure for those children who are mentally retarded?
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints General Handbook of Instructions given to the priesthood leaders gives the following information concerning persons who are not accountable. “Persons who are not accountable and cannot knowingly repent need not be baptized, no matter what their age. They should be included as members of record with the notation ‘Not accountable’ recorded under the heading for baptism. If they become accountable, they can then be baptized.” (1968, p. 85.)
Mental retardation includes a large range of abilities and disabilities from almost normal to completely incapacitated. Many mentally retarded persons are above the mental level of eight years, and as the General Handbook of Instructions directs, if such persons become accountable “they can then be baptized.” Other, more severely retarded, children will never be accountable. It is the responsibility of those who are appointed “Judges in Israel” to make inspired decisions concerning accountability. When this judgment is made, parents should feel assured that the Lord will give the retarded person every opportunity and blessing promised to the faithful.
It appears that those who pass through mortality without having become accountable retain the status of innocence spoken of by Mormon: “For behold that all little children are alive in Christ, and also all they that are without the law. For the power of redemption cometh on all them that have no law; wherefore, he that is not condemned, or he that is under no condemnation, cannot repent; and unto such baptism availeth nothing.” (Moro. 8:22.)
The Prophet Joseph Smith described the condition of children who die and have not reached the age of accountability. “And I also beheld that all children who die before they arrive at the years of accountability are saved in the Celestial Kingdom of Heaven.” (History of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 2:381.) Temple ordinances for mentally retarded persons who are deceased, however, are performed on the same basis as they are for any deceased person—without consideration of mental retardation.
The Lord leaves us with the final answer: “And, again, I say unto you, that whoso having knowledge, have I not commanded to repent?
“And he that hath no understanding, it remaineth in me to do according as it is written.” (D&C 29:49–50.)