How about GrabbinŐ This IRON ROD! August 6, 2005
This Day in History
Mike's Story on his site. (Is Mike still a Christian?)
Fresno CA Mission
The Annotated Book Of Mormon
The Downfall Of Mormonism (Mass Media Mormon Projects)
Utah Lighthouse Ministry
Simon Southerton Book
Milk & Meat
(EMAIL FROM JOHN DEHLIN)
My name is John Dehlin, and I'm an active member of the LDS church. Helen--I met you last week (briefly) at the Sunstone symposium. Peggy--we corresponded last week vie email, and I'm also the guy who called you last year to tip you off regarding the pending disfellowshipment of Grant Palmer. Doug--we've never met, but I'm a huge fan (via mp3 downloads). Sunstone/Dialogue Folks--we met last week. :)
I'm writing you all because you are journalists, and have recently covered, or have shown interest in, the LDS membership retention issue. While I am super duper grateful that you are shedding light on this issue, it pains me sincerely and deeply to know that you are failing to report 2 of the most critical aspects of this issue/story. Namely:
Bogus Baptisms, and Stake Closures.
á Bogus Baptisms: For the past 45 years, the church has repeated the cycle of: a) calling businessmen as mission presidents, b) employing sales techniques to obtain large quantities of baptisms, and c) focusing on the most impoverished areas of each mission (usually small children or single mothers) to find those who are most "susceptible" to these practices. Over time, this phenomenon has motivated many missionaries to perform what I will call (for lack of creativity) "bogus baptisms", where nothing close to what an LDS leader would call a "conversion" ever takes place. Some examples that I've personally experienced or learned about firsthand from returned missionaries include:
o "Soccer Baptisms" in Guatemala: Please click here to read the letter I sent Elder Oaks after returning home from my mission. He personally called me upon receiving this letter, and I have saved all the correspondence with him that demonstrates his awareness and sensitivities to these issues--and would be more than happy to share as proof to my story. It is because I know first-hand that Elder Oaks knows about these practices, but has never chosen to publicly (at least within the church) address them--that I feel like this story needs to be more broadly covered.
o "Baseball Baptisms" in England: See this incredible thread on the Times and Seasons LDS blog, just as one perspective on the matter
o "Cheeseburger Baptisms" in North Caronlina: Where elders would offer cheeseburgers to young children in N.C. slums to obtain baptisms
o "Beach Party Baptisms" in Chile, Vina del Mar: This was THE highest baptizing mission in the Church in the 1980's. Just do some investigative journalism. We're talking over 1000 baptisms per month for a mission of around 200 missionaries.
o "Gravestone Baptisms" in countless places: Just ask any missionary, and they will confirm of some missionaries going to grave stones to cull names off of tombstones to achieve baptismal quotas
o "Theatre Baptisms" in Brazil: My brother in law, who worked in the mission office in Sao Paulo, told me of an entire mission being closed in the 80s due to "theatre baptisms", where missionaries would put on religious plays for an entire neighborhood (usually impoverished), and then baptize all that had been "inspired" by the play.
o For other, less-substantiated stories (but still plausble based on my experience), check out http://www.latterdaylampoon.com/foyer/bogusbaptisms/ I want you all to know that I sincerely love the Church--but these types of baptisms are extremely destructive--not just to the church, but to the missionaries who get sucked into performing them, as well as the local church communities where they occur. Perhaps their biggest negative impact is listed as my 2nd point below.....
o Stake Closures and Wars Between Mission Presidents and Bishops/Stake Presidents: I have it confirmed from several independent sources that Elder Holland has closed over 30 stakes during his time in Chile. Apparently, this is one of the main reasons he's there (and, I presume, Oaks in the Philippines). I have been told that many stakes have been closed in Brazil and the Philippines as well. In some cases, there were wards where only 4 people were attending....and instances of 3 stakes being collapsed into 1 stake, etc. Mission presidents and stake presidents/bishops were (metaphorically speaking) at war with each other over this dynamic...because the mission presidents were being pressured to obtain baptismal goals, while the local leaders were under intense pressure to increase activity rates--these goals being mutually exclusive. Now....how the church continues to grow the # of stakes year over year (with the exception of a few years back, where we actually declined in # of stakes), while collapsing so many stakes, would be a phenomenally interesting story to pursue...but I digress. :) Also, check out the opening paragraphs in this article from BYU if you have not already.
o At the Sunstone symposium last week, Jan Shipps referred to this retention issue in her talk, so I went up afterwards to discuss these thoughts with her. Not only did she openly acknowledge them and treat this as "old news" (including baseball baptisms, and the like), but she told me that she considers this to be the "single biggest issue confronting the church today".
o I don't fault the church for not openly acknowledging this pattern with the membership, and future missionaries/mission presidents (and thus helping to curb the problem). Quite frankly, it is far too incredibly painful and embarrassing to do so openly. However.... someday this story will be brought to light by a courageous journalist, and it will become big news in major publications/programming (NYT, New Yorker, Frontline, etc). While it may seem like I wish the church ill.... the truth is the opposite. I am committed to this church, and feel strongly that these practices are strangling the church, and that they must be openly known and openly discussed before the church can move beyond them. In other words, "Those that fail to learn the lessons of history are forced to repeat them."
Please consider breaking this story. If you are not so inclined, but have friends at Time or Newsweek or the WSJ (etc.), please consider forwarding.
I will help in any way I can, and know of many others who would be more than happy to join in. I am confident that if this "story behind the story" can get publicly told, we can go a long way within the church towards making the needed changes, and preventing these things from occurring again. I know that the Church cares deeply about PR, and will correct the course even more forcefully than it has if the facts are more broadly known.