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Returned Missionaries Weigh in On President Ballard’s Recent Comments on the Baptismal Invitation

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On June 24, 2019, President M. Russell Ballard, acting President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, spoke to outgoing mission presidents and their companions at the Missionary Training Center. He gave insightful instruction regarding how missionaries are to invite people to baptism. His primary counsel suggested that anytime a missionary extends an invitation to someone they are teaching, especially for baptism, it should be "Spirit-led." While the idea of following the Spirit while performing missionary work isn't new, a few of his comments following his introduction made some waves by encouraging us to reconsider how we approach missionary work—particularly in inviting to baptism. Traditionally, missions throughout the world have preached the importance of an invitation to baptism very early on in the teaching process—perhaps the first lesson, or even first contact—but President Ballard instructed that this is not the standard we should set. It was never our intention to invite people to be baptized before they had learned something about the gospel, felt the Holy Ghost, and had been properly prepared to accept...

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Discussion of this article is raging on another forum.  Now apparently closed.

http://www.mormondialogue.org/topic/71993-ballard-baptismal-challenge/

Among other things, words that alleged the GAs didn’t know how the early baptism invitation got started created a lot of controversy. 

Edited by mrmarklin

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19 hours ago, mrmarklin said:

Among other things, words that alleged the GAs didn’t know how the early baptism invitation got started created a lot of controversy. 

Unsurprisingly as the baptism invitation was written explicitly to-be-memorized in the discussion booklet in my day.

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I can believe that no one knows or remembers where the early invitation started.  But the part claiming “it was never our intention to invite people to be baptized before they had learned something about the gospel, felt the Holy Ghost, and had been properly prepared to accept a lifelong commitment to follow Jesus Christ,” is a little hard to swallow.  

If we intend "something" and "properly prepared" to mean knowing nothings about covenants to live the law of tithing, fasting, word of wisdom and chastity, then okay, sure I guess.  

But for a couple of decades, the baptismal invitation was explicitly written into the Second Discussion, which means only the First Vision, Godhead, and the basics Plan of Salvation model had been taught. There was definitely an attitude of "get the commitment first and let them know what they've signed up for later." So that part confuses me.

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6 minutes ago, MarginOfError said:

But the part claiming “it was never our intention to invite people to be baptized before they had learned something about the gospel, felt the Holy Ghost, and had been properly prepared to accept a lifelong commitment to follow Jesus Christ,” is a little hard to swallow.  

When I read this, I was also reminded of another change that happened quietly while I was on my mission. 

I know in MANY missions, it is tradition to have a big transfer meeting where all the missionaries being transferred get together at a central location and get their new area and companion Harry-Potter-sorting-hat style.

Well word reaches the GA long after it became an ingrained tradition and elder Oaks came and made a statement to all mission presidents that seemed a lot like the statement made above. My first thought “how did you not know till now that this was happening?”

I have similar thoughts about this statement.

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24 minutes ago, MarginOfError said:

But the part claiming “it was never our intention to invite people to be baptized before they had learned something about the gospel, felt the Holy Ghost, and had been properly prepared to accept a lifelong commitment to follow Jesus Christ,” is a little hard to swallow.

Who is the antecedent to "our"? Probably not mission presidents, and certainly not the missionaries.

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2 minutes ago, Vort said:

Who is the antecedent to "our"? Probably not mission presidents, and certainly not the missionaries.

It's a quote from Elder Ballard, so I'd presume the "our" is some form of upper Church leadership.  Not sure if you'd call that Q12, Missionary Department, or something else.  But somewhere higher than the mission president is how I read it.

https://www.thechurchnews.com/leaders-and-ministry/2019-06-26/president-ballard-baptize-2019-mission-leadership-seminar-50222?fbclid=IwAR2Xo4KtxPd1JFedXKvp1bKtzc95bwEKbxY4X7so8KOTdTm1TFYpVEeU_Tw

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Just now, MarginOfError said:

It's a quote from Elder Ballard, so I'd presume the "our" is some form of upper Church leadership.  Not sure if you'd call that Q12, Missionary Department, or something else.  But somewhere higher than the mission president is how I read it.

https://www.thechurchnews.com/leaders-and-ministry/2019-06-26/president-ballard-baptize-2019-mission-leadership-seminar-50222?fbclid=IwAR2Xo4KtxPd1JFedXKvp1bKtzc95bwEKbxY4X7so8KOTdTm1TFYpVEeU_Tw

I agree. I assume it's the Quorum of Twelve or something like that. I think it's entirely possible that they (Q12) were not fully aware of the problem, or at least of its widespread nature, and I completely believe that the leading quorums never mandated or even suggested that missionaries should baptize people who didn't know what they were getting themselves into, at least to some reasonable degree. I would assume that any reasonable person, even the cynic, would agree that it does more harm than good to baptize people who don't know what they're doing, swelling the Church membership roles and concomitant duties for everyone without giving much (or any) help in carrying out those duties. Even those who disbelieve the sincerity and goodness of the Church's leadership probably don't think they're stupid.

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4 minutes ago, Vort said:

I agree. I assume it's the Quorum of Twelve or something like that. I think it's entirely possible that they (Q12) were not fully aware of the problem, or at least of its widespread nature, and I completely believe that the leading quorums never mandated or even suggested that missionaries should baptize people who didn't know what they were getting themselves into, at least to some reasonable degree. I would assume that any reasonable person, even the cynic, would agree that it does more harm than good to baptize people who don't know what they're doing, swelling the Church membership roles and concomitant duties for everyone without giving much (or any) help in carrying out those duties. Even those who disbelieve the sincerity and goodness of the Church's leadership probably don't think they're stupid.

I find it hard to believe that they "were not full aware of the problem, or at least its widespread nature." 

The exact text in the Second Discussion booklet (printed 1986) is

Quote

Will you follow the example of Christ by being baptized by someone holding the priesthood authority of God?

We will be holding a baptismal service on (date). Will you prepare yourself to be baptized on that date?

Sure, this comes with the caveat

Quote

Unless otherwise prompted by the Spirit, you should at this point invite the investigators to be baptized on a specific date. If they need additional preparation for this commitment, use the "Invitation to be Baptized" in the instruction booklet.

This is written in an official church publication that had to have gone through at least the Missionary Department, and likely the Correlation Department as well, both of which are chaired by members of the Quorum of the Twelve. 

So yeah, I'm having trouble buying that they weren't aware that we were pushing baptism before having taught all of the covenants we live by

 

* Tangential: I'm not necessarily opposed to proposing baptism before explaining all of the covenants.  Just struggling to believe that they weren't aware it was going on.

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28 minutes ago, MarginOfError said:

It's a quote from Elder Ballard, so I'd presume the "our" is some form of upper Church leadership.  Not sure if you'd call that Q12, Missionary Department, or something else.  But somewhere higher than the mission president is how I read it.

https://www.thechurchnews.com/leaders-and-ministry/2019-06-26/president-ballard-baptize-2019-mission-leadership-seminar-50222?fbclid=IwAR2Xo4KtxPd1JFedXKvp1bKtzc95bwEKbxY4X7so8KOTdTm1TFYpVEeU_Tw

Here's the thing. The statement, upon reflection, is likely simply admitting a mistake. As in: The commitment to baptism prior to their understanding the gospel was intended to help them exercise faith (wherein faith is a commitment), but it was expected that said commitment would be followed by clearer understanding, etc. But realizing that this process led to misunderstanding, and treating baptisms like a numbers game, corrections have been made.

And, point of note: As I recall, the commitment to read the Book of Mormon and pray about and AND get an answer were prerequisites to moving forward beyond the 2nd discussion where said commitment was made. I don't think the intention was ever to have people commit to baptism having not received said answer about the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon.

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12 minutes ago, MarginOfError said:

So yeah, I'm having trouble buying that they weren't aware that we were pushing baptism before having taught all of the covenants we live by

But that's not at issue. None of us fully understand the covenants we make. There is no way to really understand those covenants except by making them and living by them. The issue is whether the Church's leadership was encouraging baptism of people who clearly had no understanding of the covenant they were supposed to be making.

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15 minutes ago, MarginOfError said:

So yeah, I'm having trouble buying that they weren't aware that we were pushing baptism before having taught all of the covenants we live by

This criticism does not align with:

"it was never our intention to invite people to be baptized before they had learned something about the gospel, felt the Holy Ghost, and had been properly prepared to accept a lifelong commitment to follow Jesus Christ,”

"Learned something about the gospel" is a bit ambiguous, but certainly they always were meant to learn "something". "Felt the Holy Ghost" was always key. "Properly prepared to accept a lifelong commitment to follow Jesus Christ" requires only one thing -- a commitment to follow Jesus Christ. It's doesn't require knowing everything entailed therein.

 

Edited by The Folk Prophet

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Just to put it down in one summary

Things that were discussed prior to the recommended invitation to baptism

  • God, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Ghost
  • The First Vision
  • The Mission of Jesus Christ
  • Faith
  • Repentance
  • Baptism

Things that were discussed after the recommended invitation to baptism

  • The Apostasy
  • The Restoration
  • Priesthood
  • Sacrament
  • Life after death
  • Work for the dead
  • Eternal Families
  • Chastity
  • Word of Wisdom
  • Fasting
  • Fast Offerings
  • Tithing
  • Missions of the Church

 

Now if Elder Ballard had said, "it was never our intention to baptize people before they had learned something about the gospel..."

But that isn't what he said. He said, "it was never our intention to invite people to be baptized before they had learned something about the gospel..."

All I'm saying is that for the statement to be true, the ambiguous "something" has to be a very low bar--the actual-published program was extending that invitation before even scratching the surface on some of the core and unique teaching of the Church. 

 

And again, I'm not saying that the early invitation is necessarily bad.  But to tell me it wasn't intended?  If you didn't intend it, why did you write it that way and leave it for 20 years?

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The outrage as we all know comes from this line and nothing else:

“It was never our intention to invite people to be baptized before they had learned something about the gospel, felt the Holy Ghost, and had been properly prepared to accept a lifelong commitment to follow Jesus Christ.

 “Our retention rates will dramatically increase when people desire to be baptized because of the spiritual experiences they are having rather than feeling pressured into being baptized by our missionaries.”

on my mission, I was one of those missionaries that stalwartly, faithfully, and unapologetically invites every person i taught to be baptized on the first lesson, and every lesson after that if they rejected it. Why? Because I was taught that at every mission and zone conference. It’s written down everywhere in my mission study journals. I was considered by many to be a good leader and a very faithful missionary because I did and taught this so well.

While all this was happening, there were tons of disobedient missionaries that were refusing to invite on the first lesson for the very same reasons Elder Ballard lists in the second paragraph. Often times they were indirectly called out in meetings for their “lack of faith” in the spirit and In the leaders of the church who told us we need to invite on first lessons.

We were all taught to do this in the MTC, in fact I remember very clearly being given a challenge to invite our faux-investigator to be baptized in the first lesson. The whole class went in and only my companion and I successfully invited the faux-investigator. When we got back I , we got tons of praise for our apparent success.

On my mission. Elder Cardon of the 70 taught us to invite on the first lesson, as did Elder Zwick a year later

Side note: Elder Kapische came too but he gave us the best advice. “Stop knocking in trailer parks” and “drop all your investigators that don't keep commitments for 2 lessons in a row”. And later Elder Christofferson came and taught us that we always win bible bashes because our quads are thicker than their bibles x) 

I baptized an above average amount of people, but none of them are active today.

Personally, I am not upset by this at all. I welcome the change and am happy to see the shift. But for the people who fought it for so long on their missions, were taught this by 70s, and were accused of having a lack of faith or being disobedient, it must be super frustrating to hear President Ballard say these words starting with “it was never our intention”. To many that sounds like he is shifting the blame away from the church leadership and saying “you misinterpreted us”.

Edited by Fether

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Funny how people are talking about the old missionary program...  Last I checked the "six discussions" I taught as a missionary have been long sense obsoleted.  In favor of the Preach My Gospel...  I am not as familiar with that...  When does it have the missionary extend the invitation? Because that is what the Leadership of the Church has set as the standard that we are discussing now.  Not the old program.

 

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6 minutes ago, estradling75 said:

Funny how people are talking about the old missionary program...  Last I checked the "six discussions" I taught as a missionary have been long sense obsoleted.  In favor of the Preach My Gospel...  I am not as familiar with that...  When does it have the missionary extend the invitation? Because that is what the Leadership of the Church has set as the standard that we are discussing now.  Not the old program.

 

While it isn't a direct quote from Elder Ballard, the article does indicate that "Church leaders don’t know where these practices [baptismal invitations in the first or second meeting] began..." which may be teeing up a lot of the "say-wha?"  

Anyone who served a mission before 2005 has a pretty good idea where to look for some of these practices.

 

https://www.thechurchnews.com/leaders-and-ministry/2019-06-26/president-ballard-baptize-2019-mission-leadership-seminar-50222?fbclid=IwAR2Xo4KtxPd1JFedXKvp1bKtzc95bwEKbxY4X7so8KOTdTm1TFYpVEeU_Tw

Edited by MarginOfError

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34 minutes ago, MarginOfError said:

All I'm saying is that for the statement to be true, the ambiguous "something" has to be a very low bar--the actual-published program was extending that invitation before even scratching the surface on some of the core and unique teaching of the Church.

I disagree. Having been taught about God, Christ, atonement, repentance, restoration, and baptism is not a "very low bar". Not at all. It is enough to allow people to discern the Spirit and decide whether they want to pursue baptism. That is the perfect time to extend a baptismal invitation.

Before the actual baptism, those other things need to be presented. And they may indeed make people change their minds about being baptized, especially tithing. But your characterization of the fundamental elements as a "very low bar" for a baptismal invitation is untrue, in my estimation.

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39 minutes ago, MarginOfError said:

He said, "it was never our intention to invite people to be baptized before they had learned something about the gospel..."

These things aren't "something"?

39 minutes ago, MarginOfError said:
  • God, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Ghost
  • The First Vision
  • The Mission of Jesus Christ
  • Faith
  • Repentance
  • Baptism

 

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38 minutes ago, Fether said:

On my mission. Elder Cardon of the 70 taught us to invite on the first lesson, as did Elder Zwick a year later

Interesting. Elder Cardon was my mission president, and one of the three or four great men of my life. I never recall him saying anything about inviting on the first lesson. Perhaps his opinion changed with time, or perhaps he thought other areas might be more receptive than central Italy. :)

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46 minutes ago, Fether said:

The outrage as we all know comes from this line and nothing else:

“It was never our intention to invite people to be baptized before they had learned something about the gospel, felt the Holy Ghost, and had been properly prepared to accept a lifelong commitment to follow Jesus Christ.

 “Our retention rates will dramatically increase when people desire to be baptized because of the spiritual experiences they are having rather than feeling pressured into being baptized by our missionaries.”

on my mission, I was one of those missionaries that stalwartly, faithfully, and unapologetically invites every person i taught to be baptized on the first lesson, and every lesson after that if they rejected it. Why? Because I was taught that at every mission and zone conference. It’s written down everywhere in my mission study journals. I was considered by many to be a good leader and a very faithful missionary because I did and taught this so well.

While all this was happening, there were tons of disobedient missionaries that were refusing to invite on the first lesson for the very same reasons Elder Ballard lists in the second paragraph. Often times they were indirectly called out in meetings for their “lack of faith” in the spirit and In the leaders of the church who told us we need to invite on first lessons.

We were all taught to do this in the MTC, in fact I remember very clearly being given a challenge to invite our faux-investigator to be baptized in the first lesson. The whole class went in and only my companion and I successfully invited the faux-investigator. When we got back I , we got tons of praise for our apparent success.

On my mission. Elder Cardon of the 70 taught us to invite on the first lesson, as did Elder Zwick a year later

Side note: Elder Kapische came too but he gave us the best advice. “Stop knocking in trailer parks” and “drop all your investigators that don't keep commitments for 2 lessons in a row”. And later Elder Christofferson came and taught us that we always win bible bashes because our quads are thicker than their bibles x) 

I baptized an above average amount of people, but none of them are active today.

Personally, I am not upset by this at all. I welcome the change and am happy to see the shift. But for the people who fought it for so long on their missions, were taught this by 70s, and were accused of having a lack of faith or being disobedient, it must be super frustrating to hear President Ballard say these words starting with “it was never our intention”. To many that sounds like he is shifting the blame away from the church leadership and on to the missionaries.

Your mission experience mirrors my own.  That said, to fisk Elder Ballard’s quote:

“. . . it was never our intention to invite people to be baptized before they had learned something about the gospel . . .” 

—This isn’t terribly specific, and arguably happens in the first discussion (whether the old curriculum we taught, or Preach My Gospel)

“. . . felt the Holy Ghost . . .”

—Ditto.

”. . ., and had been properly prepared to accept a lifelong commitment to follow Jesus Christ”

—Ditto.  “Properly prepared” is a highly subjective descriptor.  The scriptures are rife with examples of people who were baptized after hearing just one sermon (including Acts 2, which I believe as a church we just studied in the last week or so).

So really, nothing Elder Ballard says precludes or disavows the long-standing practice of inviting investigators to be baptized relatively early in the teaching process.  

But, let’s look at this passage in context.  Elder Ballard is responding to some very specific practices by some missionaries:

“These missionaries have felt that inviting people to be baptized the very first time they meet them demonstrated the missionaries’ faith and supports their thinking that inviting people to be baptized early is what is expected,” he said. “Other missionaries have felt that an invitation to be baptized early allowed them to promptly separate the wheat from the tares. In this case, some see the baptismal invitation as a sifting tool.

I saw both of these approaches on my mission—the overall attitude being that “if they won’t accept baptism the first time it’s offered, they aren’t golden, and they’re just distractions sent by Satan to waste our time as missionaries” (Yes, I heard DLs and ZLs and APs use this verbiage.  Repeatedly.)  I think that is probably the approach Elder Ballard is disavowing and condemning—the notion of completely writing off investigators who show some promise but aren’t ready to commit yet. 

I am willing to take Elder Ballard’s statement at face value regarding “intent”; though I also agree with @Fether that it’s too darned bad that the attitude Ballard warns against wasn’t more thoroughly and vocally identified and condemned from the very highest levels twenty years ago.  I was one of those missionaries who was accused of a lack of faith for being slow to invite to baptism.  It was awful. 

Edited by Just_A_Guy

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5 minutes ago, Vort said:

I disagree. Having been taught about God, Christ, atonement, repentance, restoration, and baptism is not a "very low bar". Not at all. It is enough to allow people to discern the Spirit and decide whether they want to pursue baptism. That is the perfect time to extend a baptismal invitation.

Before the actual baptism, those other things need to be presented. And they may indeed make people change their minds about being baptized, especially tithing. But your characterization of the fundamental elements as a "very low bar" for a baptismal invitation is untrue, in my estimation.

Particularly where it was coupled with reading and praying about The Book of Mormon.

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10 minutes ago, MarginOfError said:

While it isn't a direct quote from Elder Ballard, the article does indicate that "Church leaders don’t know where these practices [baptismal invitations in the first or second meeting] began..." which may be teeing up a lot of the "say-wha?"  

Anyone who served a mission before 2005 has a pretty good idea where to look for some of these practices.

 

https://www.thechurchnews.com/leaders-and-ministry/2019-06-26/president-ballard-baptize-2019-mission-leadership-seminar-50222?fbclid=IwAR2Xo4KtxPd1JFedXKvp1bKtzc95bwEKbxY4X7so8KOTdTm1TFYpVEeU_Tw

MOE, you were there. You experienced such ideas. Do you know where the practices began? I don't. They obviously began some time ago, but I (and obviously the apostles) don't know when or where. The point being, we can't point to Elder So-and-So of the Twelve in 1968 who first instructed the missionaries at the LTM to invite on the first discussion or something of the sort. It's one of those practices that had some nebulous beginning and just sort of picked up steam, without being quashed (or perhaps even fully recognized) by Church leadership. Now it's being quashed. Instead of the incessant fault-finding, let's just be glad.

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3 minutes ago, Just_A_Guy said:

to fisk

"fisk: To criticize and refute (a published article or argument), especially in point-by-point or line-by-line fashion on a blog. v.intr. To fisk an article or argument. [After Robert Fisk(born 1946), British journalist, some of whose controversial reports on the Middle East were criticized on blogs.]"

Huh. You learn something new every day.

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1 minute ago, Vort said:

"fisk: To criticize and refute (a published article or argument), especially in point-by-point or line-by-line fashion on a blog. v.intr. To fisk an article or argument. [After Robert Fisk(born 1946), British journalist, some of whose controversial reports on the Middle East were criticized on blogs.]"

Huh. You learn something new every day.

Hmm.  Maybe it would have been more appropriate for me to use the word “parse”, since I didn’t really mean to “rebut”.  :( 

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2 minutes ago, Just_A_Guy said:

 I was one of those missionaries who was accused of a lack of faith for being slow to incite to baptism.  It was awful. 

The problem isn't, and never has been, in the programs and processes. The problem is in people.

The worst part of my mission was the nonsense bureaucratic caste type system among the missionaries.

Awful, indeed.

You still see it. Why I remember just a bit back (which may mean within a year or two) someone using an appeal to authority argument with said authority being having acquired the position of AP on their mission!

I hated that part of my mission. And everyone from the mission president down were responsible -- including myself. Because the truth is that people are fallen, mortal, weak, foolish beings who, even the best of them, act in fallen, mortal, weak, foolish ways.

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