Baseball Baptisms

From Sunstone Magazine 16 (7) December 1993: 30-44



By D. Michael Quinn

                     THE I-THOU VS. THE I-IT RELATIONSHIP

                     Pastoral and itinerant missionaries

            IN CHRISTIANITY, CONVERT BAPTISM IS A relationship, not an event.  I’m not saying it should be a relationship; convert baptism is always a relationship of one kind or another.  At its most divine, convert baptism is an I-Thou relationship of spiritual intimacy.1 At its most mortal, convert baptism is an I-It relationship of commodity acquisition.  Often, it is some mixture of the two.

            In both the I-Thou and I-It relationship, the baptizer is either a pastoral evangelist (missionary) or an itinerant evangelist (missionary).  At the extreme, the itinerant missionary is with the convert only long enough to say a few words and baptize her or him.  Then the missionary goes on to other “fields white for the harvest.” The Apostle Paul was such a missionary to most of the converts he baptized in the Roman Empire.  At the other extreme, pastoral missionaries devote their lives to personally nurturing each convert they have baptized.  Many Franciscan priests were that kind of evangelist to each Native American convert they baptized in the adobe missions of the American southwest.

            Because of the temporary nature of Mormon missionary service, at best an LDS missionary can be only a mixture of itinerant and pastoral.  Depending on their personalities and circumstances, many Mormon missionaries never give pastoral attention to the persons they baptize.  In either role, however, the missionary can participate in conversion as a relationship of spiritual intimacy, or as merely a way to gain something earthly.

            In the I-Thou relationship, convert baptism signifies reciprocal love and glorification.  Jesus of Nazareth proclaimed: “I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly” (John 10:10).  The personal God of Mormonism declared: “For behold, this is my work and my glory – to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man” (Moses 1:39).  God’s purpose for being is to advance the experience and fulfillment of his daughters and sons.  As for the spiritual convert, she or he “takes on Christ” through baptism and becomes a new person in the Savior.  In Mormon doctrine, the convert becomes the spiritually adopted daughter or son of Christ.  In this I-Thou relationship, the convert also enters a new relationship of spiritual sisterhood and brotherhood with all others who are in this household of faith.

            In an I-Thou relationship, the missionary aids conversion by drawing on the powers of the Divine to reach out in love to the prospective convert.  The personal welfare and future prospects of the convert are the first priority for the missionary who participates in I-Thou conversions.  A Book of Mormon missionary said: “And we have suffered all manner of afflictions, and all this, that perhaps we might be the means of saving some soul . . .” (Alma 26:30).  Personal benefit to missionaries from the convert baptism is not a goal of their I-Thou proselytizing.  One missionary may baptize a single I-Thou convert in two years, while another may baptize thousands of I-Thou converts.

            On the other hand, in the I-It relationship, baptism is a means for the convert to gain something earthly.  The convert who is unhappy may want the happiness that seems to surround the missionaries and members of the new faith.  The lonely may seek the instant friendships that seem to be the reward for conversion.  Dysfunctional or shattered families may seek transformation into the happy marriages they see at invitational Family Home Evenings or in “Home Front” television commercials.  The hungry and ill may desperately want the food and health care that are available to “the worthy poor” of the new church.  The impoverished may hope to achieve financial opportunities through association with comparatively wealthy missionaries and members of the new church.  Social outcasts may crave what they perceive as the respectability surrounding members of the new church, especially if they know converts who have experienced upward social mobility.

            In I-It conversions, the uprooted and dislocated may also need the stability and cohesiveness of the new church’s social network.  Those who envy or identify with the United States may seek vicarious Americanization through association with U.S. missionaries and their Americanized converts.  Students in specific countries may seek the tuition-free education available to them from the Church’s large university that is trying to build bridges across which future missionaries can march into previously forbidden cities.  Illegal immigrants may accept baptism from a missionary who promises not to report them to government officials and who offers to transport them to destinations far from the border.  And – in the main subject of this essay – disadvantaged children and teenagers may be eager to be dunked under water as the only requirement for a free trip to the beach or for membership in a sports club sponsored by a church.

            In the I-It relationship, performing baptisms is also a means for the missionary to gain something earthly.  The missionary may want the praise of family and Church leaders for adding converts to the faith.  Some missionaries use convert baptism as a way to gain the personal “testimony” of the gospel that was absent in their pre-mission experience.  The missionary may seek a sense of self-worth through baptizing others.  Missionaries may believe that their eternal glory grows with each new convert.  They may think that God’s love for them increases with each person they bring into his kingdom.  The missionary may expect that performing more baptisms will increase the chances of advancement in Church office.  The missionary may enjoy the “rush” of competing with other missionaries to see who can baptize the most persons or which mission can “out-baptize” the other missions of the world.  And – again in the main subject of this essay – Church leaders may put such intense pressures of reward or disfavor on a misionary’s baptismal numbers that young missionaries will do anything – anything – to satisfy those demands.

            In all of the above examples of I-It missionary work, potential converts and actual converts are only objects to fulfill the various goals of a missionary.  That is true whether a missionary’s I-It emphasis results in a single baptism or in thousands.

            Because the chasm between I-Thou and I-It lies within a person’s internal motivation, external actions might not identify which relationship governs.  In the case of proselytizing, a person may “convert” for I-It motivations, while the missionary teaches and baptizes the same convert for I-Thou reasons.  And vice versa.  However, external actions sometimes are so exploitative as to remove all doubt that I-It relationships are occurring.

                            THE DEMANDS OF GROWTH

      The link between chapel construction, baptism, and Church finances

            THIS essay tells the story of a specific period in the modern history of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.  It began as a program to encourage I-Thou conversions to Mormonism, but rapidly degenerated into an I-It race for baptism numbers.  In the late 1950s and early 1960s, many LDS leaders promoted this as a “New Era” of missionary work and referred to it as the “Youth Baptism Program.” In the 1970s, LDS church president Spencer W. Kimball derided it as “the kiddie baptism program.”2 In 1973 I gave a detailed summary of this history as part of a thirty-five page interview with the historical department of the LDS church.  I put it under a twenty-year restriction, which has now passed.

            In many missions, this accelerated-baptism program was known by whatever activity the missionaries employed to attract adolescent boys.  Young males were the specific target because this “New Era” missionary program sought to change the previous over-representation of females in conversions and active membership and the consequent marriage of many of those active young women to non-Mormon males.  In some missions its nickname was “Basketball Program.” In others, it was the “Beach Party Program.” In Great Britain and continental Europe, it was popularly known as the “Baseball Baptism  Program,” which is the most common nickname for the era.  Henry D. Moyle was the architect of this “New Era,” which he created as soon as he became a counselor in the First Presidency.

            This movement was linked with the fact that the LDS church issued its last public statement of expenditures at the April 1959 conference.  Moyle, appointed second counselor two months later, assumed direction of Church finances, with President David O. McKay’s optimistic encouragement.  President Moyle immediately set aside the current budget and launched a massive increase of expenditures, especially in the construction of new buildings.  Six months later the LDS church had spent $8 million more than it had received in 1959.  This was extraordinary when compared to the Church’s surplus income of $7 million after 1958’s expenditures.  Because the last published report of expenditures included the building program, Elder Moyle persuaded President McKay not to publish even an abbreviated accounting of Church spending.  There has been no itemized financial report of LDS expenditures from 1960 onward.3

            President Moyle’s financial program for the LDS church was fundamentally linked with his missionary program.  First, he expected a major increase of tithing revenues from a significant rise in convert baptisms.  Second, he was convinced that massive increases in Church membership meant there soon would be a thousand Mormons in towns and cities where now there were only a few dozen.  Therefore, Counselor Moyle ordered the LDS church building program to construct meetinghouses for that projected growth rather than for the current needs of thousands of small branches.

            This massive building program plunged the LDS church into huge spending deficits.  At the time, Apostle Harold B. Lee waged a losing battle in what he called “my stubborn resistance to the principle of `deficit spending,’ supposedly justified in the hope of increasing the tithing of the Church to cover the deficit.”4 Such an increase in the building program required a virtual explosion in the number of tithe-payers to avoid bankrupting the Church.  In effect, this left the Church’s financial survival directly in hands of youthful full-time missionaries.

            The nickname of “New Era” for this missionary program was linked to Church finances, to David O. McKay, and to Great Britain.  The First Presidency’s financial secretary had proclaimed in the mid-1950s that projected increases of tithing revenues constituted “a new era in the financial history of the Church.”5 At the dedication of the London Temple in September 1958, President McKay used the phrase “New Era,” and the British Mission president rephrased his words as: “This is a New Era in the British Mission.”6

            Part of that “New Era” was a new approach to teaching prospective converts.  Since 1948, many missions had systematic (but unmemorized) presentations that “incorporated well-known salesmanship techniques.” Fourteen or fifteen “lessons” were required before a prospective convert was allowed to be baptized.7 In February-March 1959, the British Mission adopted a six-“discussion” plan which missionaries were required to memorize and repeat verbatim to potential converts.  After visiting the British Mission five months later, Apostle Marion G. Romney gave copies of its plan to European mission presidents and instructed them to translate the plan verbatim into their various languages.  However, Elder Romney opposed high-pressure proselytizing and warned missionary leaders against being “slave-drivers.”8

            With President Moyle’s encouragement, the six memorized proselytizing lessons became the Church-wide program in 1961.  This “New Era” plan of memorized dialogue had the following “challenge” midway through the first discussion: “Now, the beautiful thing that we’re going to tell you about today is that the Lord has restored His true Church and the priesthood back to the earth again.  WHEN YOU COME TO KNOW IN YOUR OWN HEART THAT THIS IS TRUE, WILL YOU BE BAPTIZED BY SOMEONE WHO HAS THE PRIESTHOOD?” No matter what the person’s answer, the missionary was to respond: “We hold baptismal services every week in the church.  We’ll be having a baptism on the (date).  We want you to keep that date in mind as you continue to learn about the Church.” At the end of this first meeting, the dialogue gave a reminder of the upcoming baptismal service.  If the person didn’t accept immediate baptism, the lesson plan’s third and fourth discussions contained even more emphatic baptismal challenges.9

            Mormon proselytizing became goal-driven and pressurized upon the Church-wide adoption of this teaching method in 1961.  Subtle and not-so-subtle pressures on the “investigators” to accept LDS baptism were in the dialogue’s very structure.  Missionaries were required to memorize and deliver these six lessons of dialogue word-for-word, and were also instructed how to “coach” the non-Mormon listeners to give the “right” answers.  The lesson plan reminded missionaries that “conversion comes only through the Holy Ghost.” However, the structure of the “Uniform System” reduced LDS proselytizing to an extended sales pitch and investigators into potential numbers for demonstrating the success of missionaries as gospel salespeople.

            Goals, quotas, comparative charts, incentives, material rewards, and deadlines were among the “well-known salesmanship techniques” that Henry D. Moyle made part of the LDS church’s world-wide missionary work.  Equally important was Moyle’s emphasis on baptizing young males whom he expected to become tithe-paying breadwinners and heads of LDS families.

            In tandem with the New Era of missionary work, Moyle’s prot,g, Wendell Mendenhall was chair of the LDS Church   Building Committee, and Mendenhall accelerated church construction world-wide from 1959 onward.  For example, in 1960 the two men addressed a meeting of mission presidents, missionaries, and local leaders in England.  They praised the missionaries for using baseball instruction to baptize young boys and for accepting goals to double the current year’s number of baptisms.  They also explained that this rate of growth required the LDS church to complete a new meetinghouse every day in Great Britain alone.10

            To assist this accelerated building effort in 1960, the Church began having young men serve two-year building missions in Britain and continental Europe.11 This had double benefits in providing cheap labor for constructing chapels and in keeping the teenage boys active in the Church.  Nearly all of them converted without their parents.12

            Nevertheless, even with voluntary labor, the construction of new meetinghouses almost single-handedly pushed the LDS church to a $32 million deficit for 1962.  Moyle’s building program assumed long-term population growth of extraordinary proportions, yet paying for it required immediate tithing increases. “I wonder where all the money will come from,” the Twelve’s president wrote.13 There was already a shortfall of $5 million for the first two months of 1963, and the year’s outlay threatened to equal or exceed the Church’s $32 million deficit of 1962.14 Mormonism was teetering on the edge of a financial crisis.

            Long before then, the building program alone had made it imperative to baptize large numbers of adolescent boys to become building missionaries and tithe-payers.  Moyle told British missionaries: “We need these young men.  How are we going to get this [labor] missionary building program carried out without them? The answer is, we could not.” Moyle published that in the LDS Church News.15

                               TEENAGE BAPTISMS

                     Top-level resistance to the program

            SHORTLY after the baseball baptisms began, however, some missionaries in Britain wrote letters to the Church president complaining that the program was exploiting British youth.  First Presidency secretaries routed these letters to the counselor in charge of missionary work, Henry D. Moyle.  A man of strong will and quick temper, Counselor Moyle lashed out at these letters in his talk to all British missionaries in November 1960:

            You elders need have no concern, no matter from what source the criticism comes, as to whether your baptisms are too fast. . . .  If you think that President McKay does not know what is going on and that Brother Moyle and Brother Woodbury, and Brother Brockbank are “pulling a fast one,” so to speak, why you are mistaken about that. . . .  I have noted a little apologetic tone in some of your voices about baptizing too many young people.  Well don’t put on the brakes.

            Those remarks also appeared in the LDS Church News.16

            Moyle’s counsel that missionaries should ignore criticism “no matter from what source” referred to the apostles who were already criticizing the Baseball Baptism Program and its world-wide spin-offs.  For example, in March 1960, Apostle Harold B. Lee had warned the missionaries in France that “conversions are not merely the result of a system, not merely the result of a machine operation. . . .  We are not concerned primarily with how many baptisms you get.”17 In September, Moyle confided that Apostles Joseph Fielding Smith and Harold B. Lee were in “real opposition” to his “accelerated missionary program.”18 The European mission president, Alvin R. Dyer, also told the missionaries in France about criticism of the accelerated baptisms he heard when he was at October 1960 general conference.19

            On 15 December 1960, Counselor Moyle formally announced to the apostles that baseball was now a missionary tool to baptize teenage boys.  Because the British Mission had traditionally been the most prestigious mission, Moyle emphasized the success of the baseball program there.  He reported to the Quorum of Twelve that this was happening “not only in England but all over the Continent.”20

            Convert numbers soared.  General authority Derek A. Cuthbert wrote: “Instead of baptising ones and twos, almost overnight from mid-1960, the missionaries were bringing in tens and hundreds.” He became an English general authority who continued to defend the Baseball Baptism Program decades after it was discontinued.21 In 1959, Great Britain and continental Europe baptized a total of 9 percent of all baptisms in the LDS church.  A year later, Britain and Europe accounted for 36 percent of the entire Church’s baptisms.22

            Soon missionaries were competing with each other to achieve baptism “goals,” and each mission president throughout the world was competing to have the highest numbers of baptisms.  However, many general authorities had misgivings, especially about Britain, where several apostles had served missions.  By May 1961, “nearly all” of the apostles were “gravely concerned about the pressures being put on missionaries  to baptize to fill a quota of baptisms.” BYU president Ernest L. Wilkinson added, “This of course was a criticism of President Moyle and many of the mission presidents working under his direction.”23

            Rather than consider the merits of such criticism from the Quorum of Twelve, Moyle publicly counter-attacked.  In August 1961, he had the LDS Church News publish the full text of his defense of the “New Era” missionary program.  He lashed out against persons who “undertake to sow doubt or uncertainty about any phase of missionary work,” which equalled “criticism of our Head, Jesus Christ, the son of God.” He denied that missionaries were overworked.  He even instructed parents and Church leaders to ignore letters from youthful missionaries who complained about any aspect of the new proselytizing program.

            So that no one would misunderstand, Counselor Moyle referred to “these teen-age baptisms, about which there seems to have been so much talk.” He said it was no one’s business to complain if a boy chose to be baptized the “first day or the first week or the first month or the first year of contact with him concerning the Church.”24 A few months later, his annual report of missionary baptisms had the same tone of defensive defiance: “President Henry D. Moyle of the First Presidency, who, under the assignment of President David O. McKay, directs the great world-wide missionary effort of the Church, feels 1962 will record another 100 percent increase as did 1961.”25

            Counselor Moyle also encouraged mission presidents and missionaries to regard convert baptisms like scores in athletic competition.  As an example of this officially sponsored competitiveness, the LDS Church News reported in September 1961 that so far in the year, “the Northwestern States Mission leads the missions . . .  Samoan missionaries were in second place . . .  California Mission reported 2,138 converts to clinch third place.”26 Reading like the sports page, the LDS Church News reported in December that the Scottish-Irish Mission’s “baptisms could well exceed 5,100 for the year – the highest of any mission.  The Northwestern States with 4,003 baptisms by the end of October will run the Scottish-Irish a close second with an estimated 4,900 to 5,000 for the year.” The LDS Church News concluded that “Contending for the third spot will be the Samoan Mission. . . .”27

            With little or no gospel instruction, pre-adolescent and teenage boys were joining the LDS church by tens of thousands annually throughout the world.  As a seventeen-year-old, I listened to the homecoming address in my Southern California ward of a missionary who said he had baptized more than two hundred teenage boys in the Pacific Northwest.  I regarded that as faith-promoting until a few years later, when I listened to the complaints of a bishop from the Portland area.

            His ward clerk was swamped with membership certificates for dozens of boys that no one in the ward had met.  After the bishop began locating them, he heard an identical story.  A pair of LDS missionaries had played basketball with the boys who were usually underprivileged or from single-parent homes.  The elders told them of free trips throughout the Northwest to compete against LDS ward teams, and of the all-Church tournament in Salt Lake City for the best basketball teams.28 The only catch was that missionaries told the boys they had to be baptized into the LDS church in order to play on its “athletic teams.”29 After the baptism ceremony (usually on the first day of contact), the missionaries gave the boys the time and place of local LDS meetings.  These Portland area boys never saw those elders again.

            A Mississippi convert described a variation on this approach in the Gulf States Mission in the early 1960s.  Missionary sisters and elders combed upcountry towns and hamlets for boys who had never seen the Gulf of Mexico.  During the several-hour bus or car ride to the beach, the missionaries taught the boys all six discussions at once.  When they reached the sugar-white sands of the Gulf, the first order of business was multiple-baptism ceremonies in the gently lapping surf.  If the boys did not comply, the vehicle would turn immediately around and take the boys back home.  After hours of fun in the sun, the newly baptized learned that the missionaries would be glad to bring them back to the beach again – if each boy brought along at least one unbaptized friend. “I was one of those White Trash kids,” this Southern boy drawled. “Now I’m one of the Beach Party Baptism success stories.” He was a full-time missionary when he told me his experience.

            A speaker at a Brigham Young University “devotional” in the 1962-63 school year startled the audience by criticizing another example of the “New Era” missionary work.  A pair of elders visited a playground in the eastern states and offered an ice cream soda to every boy over the age of eight who would accept baptism that afternoon.  I listened to this as a freshman student and prospective missionary and wondered how it was possible for missionaries to do that.  By fall of 1963, I was in England and began to learn what had happened in the British missions during the previous five years.

            Almost two years earlier, in January 1962, Seventy’s president Marion D. Hanks had begun to preside over mission headquarters in London.  He had personal instructions from President McKay: “I have heard disturbing rumors about what  is going on in the British Mission,” the Church president said. “If there are excesses, I want you to correct them.” Hanks immediately ended baptism quotas and stopped the baseball program, which cut baptisms dramatically in his mission.  This resulted in Hanks’s being criticized by Moyle at Church headquarters, by presidents of the other missions which now existed in Britain, and by missionaries and local English leaders within the British Mission.30

            Elder Cuthbert was the British Mission’s Aaronic priesthood leader in charge of trying to fellowship these thousands of English boys into the LDS church.  As a general authority, he recently wrote to defend the Baseball Baptism Program that “has become a derogatory term among many people.” His only comment about the termination of baseball baptisms was to say that newly arrived President Hanks “gave us some breathing space before moving forward again.”31 Ironically, it was a non-Mormon historian (also English) who noted that Hanks “responded [to the baseball baptisms of youths] by placing the real emphasis not on baptism as such as a goal, but on that conversion of life which is a longer term process.”32

            In January 1963, Apostle Mark E. Petersen arrived to preside over the missions throughout Britain, Ireland, and the French-East Mission.  Henry D. Moyle Jr. had presided over the French East since 1961, and his first missionary bulletin outlined the program for “baseball americain.”33 Elder Petersen complained that ” `baseball baptisms’ were being made whereby youngsters were baptized into the Church without any instruction and sometimes without the knowledge or consent of their parents.” He added: “Under President McKay’s instructions, we were to discontinue such things and bring the missions back to a normal proselyting program.”34

            In contrast to Elder Petersen’s report, Cuthbert’s official history of the British missions said that the conduct of the baseball program required that “parents must agree in writing to the baptizing of their children.”35 Cuthbert’s claim was based on the official requirement for the LDS baptism of minors; Petersen’s statement referred to what had happened in reality.

                        THE T. BOWRING WOODBURY YEARS

                        Growth in the British mission

            THE principal architect of the Baseball Baptism Program in Britain was Moyle’s prot,g,, T. Bowring (“Beau”) Woodbury.  President Woodbury led the British Mission from October 1958 to January 1962.  Using baseball to recruit British boys was originally a “bottom-up” missionary innovation, which Woodbury quickly adopted and promoted mission-wide.  In turn, Moyle encouraged the use of baseball or other sports as Church-wide missionary tool. 36 Other mission presidents who promoted this program to a lesser extent in Britain were Bernard P. Brockbank in the North British Mission and Scottish Mission from 1960 to 1962 and James A. Cullimore in the Central British Mission from 1961 to 1963.37

            N. Eldon Tanner, then an Assistant to the Quorum of Twelve, also presided over the French East Mission and all the British missions from his headquarters near the London Temple from 1961 to 1962.  The Baseball Baptism Program was at its height when Tanner told supervising elders to follow the instructions of their mission presidents “without question.”38 He told the October 1961 general conference that in England, “We are baptizing enough new members every two months to create a stake of more than 2,500 people.” The official conference report toned down Tanner’s estimate from six new stakes annually to “we are baptizing in the British Isles alone enough people for four or five stakes each year.”39

            Alvin R. Dyer, also an assistant to the Twelve, vigorously advocated the youth baptism program while he was presiding over missions on the European continent.  For example, Dyer told the French missionaries in 1961 that “you can teach or make the statements of everything that a person needs to know to be baptized in this Church in less than three minutes.”40 Woodbury had served as Dyer’s counselor in the Central States Mission before Woodbury’s appointment as British Mission president.  Cuthbert adds that “President Cullimore [of the Central British Mission] had also been well trained by President Dyer in the Central States Mission.”41

            I gained my knowledge of what happened during Britain’s Baseball Baptism Program through interviews with some of President Woodbury’s missionaries, with English bishops and branch presidents, and with mission presidents who served in the post-baseball era.42

            As a counter-balance to how Woodbury contributed to the excesses of the Baseball Baptism Program, I must emphasize that all local British leaders I met felt near-adoration for him.43 He was devoted to the youth baptism program.  During more than three years over the British Mission, Woodbury took personal responsibility for many teenage boys who were baptized in the baseball program.  He spent tens of thousands of dollars of his personal wealth to support dozens of these boys  as building missionaries in their early teens and as full-time missionaries in their late-teens (Brits could be full-time missionaries at age seventeen).  I met one of those young men while he was attending Oxford University.  He had been among the “scruffy” Cockney boys that missionaries had recruited as baseball baptisms from the row houses of South London.  President Woodbury also used his personal funds to subsidize struggling branches and to implement missionary programs that were beyond the budget of Church funds.  Despite such positive contributions, Woodbury also created a world of frenzy and stress for his British missionaries.

            Behind Moyle’s public denial that missionaries were overworked was their crushing schedule in the British Mission.  Woodbury told his missionaries that they needed only five hours of sleep a night.  At 7 A.M. they were to be out on the streets looking for people to baptize.  They were to schedule their last teaching appointment or baptism ceremony at midnight.  Moyle reaffirmed that policy in at least one talk he gave to all the British missionaries at the Hyde Park Chapel.

            The New Era, Woodbury’s monthly mission publication, emphasized quotas, baptism statistics, and that it was the Spirit, not the missionary’s words, which converted.  The implication was that the missionary was only an instrument of baptism, not a teacher of the gospel.  Missionaries who reached the mission’s baptism goals were honored as a “Golden Missionary of the Month.” Achieving increased goals merited membership in the “Convert-a-Month Club,” the “Four-or-More Club,” the “Extra Mile Club,” the “Family-a-Month Club,” and the “100 Percenter Club.”44

            In addition, Woodbury took the best baptizers to dinner.  For having the highest number of baptisms in a week, he invited two missionaries to have dinner at the mission home where they sat at the head of the table.  For consistently exceeding baptism quotas, President Woodbury hosted the top baptizers at the best restaurants in London.

            But the baptism quotas kept escalating.  In 1958, Woodbury set a goal of 1,250 baptisms in the mission for the next year.  In response, his second counselor (a missionary) climbed to the top of a hill in the dead of winter: “He knelt and pleaded with the great God who rules the worlds to bless the British Mission with 1,250 baptisms and more,” which the Millennial Star noted was fulfilled as “a miraculous answer to prayer.”45

            In 1961, Woodbury’s New Era set next year’s baptism goal at 14,000.  To put that increase in perspective, it’s necessary to recognize that three other missions had been created out of the original British Mission by that time.  Therefore, Woodbury increased baptism goals more than ten times beyond their 1958 level, even though his mission now had only about a fourth of the territory and population it had in 1958 (and fewer missionaries).  Without explaining its full significance, Cuthbert wrote this curious observation twenty-five years later: “There never had been and never would be another year like 1962, when over 12,000 people were baptized in Britain.”46

            In May 1960 the New Era described how all British missionaries received a special badge which they were supposed to wear to weekly missionary meetings, but only if they had baptized one or more persons the previous month.  By the personal experience of many of this essay’s readers in various parts of the world, that would be a very low goal.  Nevertheless, by pre-Woodbury experience in Britain, one baptism per missionary per month was a major achievement.47 However, British missionary meetings now resembled pep rallies or a football coach’s browbeating at half-time.  All the attention was on those missionaries who did not wear the badges.

            In July and August 1960, Brockbank’s North British Mission combined with Woodbury’s British Mission to reach a combined goal of a thousand convert baptisms in honor of David O. McKay’s birthday.  Their 1,110 baptisms for those two months were almost equal to the previous year’s total.48

            In November 1960, Woodbury announced there would be a mission tour to Mormon historic sites in England and then to the London Temple so that missionaries could reexperience the sacred endowment ceremony.  The only missionaries who could go on this grand trip were those who baptized four persons during the next month.  The British Mission’s New Era used slogans to promote this award: “Find your 4 souls on the double, Then let’s see the River Ribble.  You’ll find your 4 and then you’ll hasten to the Temple.  Baptize 4 and get some thrills by going to the Malvern Hills.  First baptize four (this is the rule) and then let’s meet in Liverpool,” and finally: “Lean on the Lord’s arm to take you to Benbow’s Farm.” Afterwards, the entire issue of the mission magazine featured photographs of the missionaries who went on this excursion and descriptions of what they did.

            Elder Alvin R. Dyer officially encouraged mission presidents in the European Mission to use an invitation to the temple as a way to prod missionaries to achieve baptism quotas.  In his 1962 The Challenge, published by the Church’s Deseret Book Company, Dyer referred to “The mission president [in Frankfurt, Germany, who] had promised that if they got four baptisms in December, they could go to the temple as the guest of the mission president over the Christmas holidays.” Dyer then told of two missionaries who had no one to baptize on 22 December, but who “baptized four people in  three days and went to the temple with their mission president.”49

            Woodbury launched another contest for the British Missionaries in 1961.  It had two planks.  First, to honor your mother, baptize four converts.  Second, by so honoring your mother, you will be allowed to attend the dedication of the Hyde Park Chapel in London and be able to see the Church president.

            Those who failed to reach that baptism quota didn’t simply lose the opportunity to see the prophet; by implication, these missionaries had also dishonored their mothers.  This was the message of the February 1961 edition of the New Era: “To Meet our Dear Prophet will be Quite a Treat.  But we must honor Mother before we all meet.” Afterwards Woodbury sent out a list of all the missionaries who had honored their mothers by achieving this goal.  One young missionary even wrote his mother a letter of apology for dishonoring her by his failure to baptize enough converts.50 In addition, Woodbury and the other mission presidents throughout Britain and continental Europe set mass-baptism drives for “Moyle Month” or “McKay Month.”51

            If missionaries baptized the highest numbers for the week’s or month’s goal, Woodbury called them by their first names when he met or wrote them.  That was a clear violation of Church-wide missionary rules.  He called missionaries “Elder” or “Sister,” if they baptized only the average for the week or month.

            President Woodbury’s baptism quotas also involved punishments.  One of Woodbury’s missionaries (who was a teaching assistant with me as an undergraduate in BYU’s religion department) described what happened when a missionary baptized fewer than the average mandated by mission headquarters.  With only one baptism instead of the required four, this missionary happened to visit headquarters in London. “Hello, President Woodbury,” he said, as the elder put out his hand.  Woodbury ignored the missionary, walked past him, and left the twenty-year-old standing with his hand extended into empty space.52 Missionaries who baptized fewer than the required goals were treated as faithless, as rebellious, as lazy, or as non-persons by British Mission headquarters.

            The Baseball Baptism Program sometimes alienated missionary companions from each other.  One “senior” companion in the British Mission refused to participate in baseball baptisms.  This caused daily arguments with his “junior” companion who had to share the stigma of failing to reach the British Mission’s baptism goals.53

            Thousands of miles from their homes, British missionaries faced discrimination, loss of privileges, and even ostracism from the mission president and fellow missionaries – all for not baptizing enough new Mormons.  And so came the excesses – the incredible excesses – of the youth baptism program in Britain.

            As elsewhere throughout the world, British missionaries used the sports program, but with a difference.  Some missionaries told the young Brits that there was a special initiation ceremony for the sports club.  Often baptized at the local YMCA, these British boys thought they had simply joined an American baseball club.

            Fronting as a baseball club was not a bizarre innovation of British missionaries, but was an official part of the Baseball Baptism Program throughout Europe.  In a conference with missionary leaders from the French Mission, French East Mission, and Dutch Mission in April 1961, Elder Alvin R. Dyer outlined each step of the program he had already implemented in Germany.  He explained: “After the [initial baseball] game the young people are called together, preferably at the edge of the playing field, where the missionaries tell them who they are, and ask them to join `a Church group or club’, and to return the following day bringing their friends with them.” One of the missionaries asked Elder Dyer: “After getting [the] baseball team baptized do you continue working with that team? Answer: No sir.  Your branch must do the integrating.” The ultimate goal of the program was to baptize the entire family of each boy, and at the minimum to have written permission from the parents for his baptism into the LDS church.4

            However, in the headlong rush to meet baptism quotas, some missionaries decided to avoid opposition by merely asking parents to give permission for the boys to join an American sports club.  Others didn’t bother to ask permission.

            Missionaries couldn’t always meet their quotas by baptizing those who were eight years of age or older, as required by revelation.  Therefore, some elders baptized children who were five, six, or seven years of age, and then falsified their birth dates on the baptismal certificates.  If they still hadn’t baptized enough to get mission leaders off their necks, other missionaries  baptized one boy several times under assumed names, filling baptismal certificates with plausible information.55

            District leaders (DL) were under tremendous pressures to come up with baptism statistics.  The DL had to phone in reports of all the baptisms performed by the missionaries in his district.  Districts were in competition with one another, and a DL also had his individual quota for baptisms.  Some district leaders simply forged baptismal certificates for non-existent people.  Mission headquarters, of course, assumed that these people existed, which relieved some of the pressure on district leaders.

            The cynicism of falsifying baptism statistics had precedent at British Mission headquarters.  The first week of December 1959, Woodbury sent a telegram to every pair of missionaries in Britain to the effect that he was “feeling discouraged over our low number of baptisms for the month of November.”56 He challenged them to exercise great faith and increased hours of work in December to make-up the 194 extra baptisms necessary to reach the British Mission’s goal of 1,250 total baptisms for 1959.  The next month Woodbury reported that the missionaries reached this annual goal by performing 237 convert baptisms in December 1959, which he described as “the greatest month of the New Era and probably of the last century.” The Millennial Star called this achievement “miraculous.”57 However, British Mission headquarters had falsified both the report of November’s baptism decrease and the report of December’s increase in baptisms.

            “The November 1959 baptism number was intentionally understated to motivate missionaries to be more productive in December,” observes one of Woodbury’s supervising elders. “Then the convert baptism number for December was grossly over-reported to make missionaries feel they had achieved a great result due to their faith and dedication.” This former missionary quickly adds: “The numbers represented real baptisms, but had been shifted from one month to the next.  This achieved the desired effect to create within the missionaries a feeling of disappointment and a corresponding rededication.” As this supervising elder was about to leave for home in January 1960, the “disillusioned” mission secretary told him of Woodbury’s requirement for this statistical manipulation.58

            If the mission secretary confided that fact to other missionaries, perhaps the falsification of baptism certificates may have resulted from the “top-down” example of British Mission headquarters.  Before recently learning of this incident, I had regarded the falsification of baptism numbers as an aberration of isolated missionaries distant from headquarters.

            The president of the British Mission’s young men’s program and the counselor in the mission’s Primary were an English couple who privately opposed the baseball baptisms.  Their home became a refuge for missionaries who tearfully spoke of the pressures to do whatever was necessary to fulfill baptism quotas. “We loved and respected these missionaries who refused to go along with the baseball program,” the woman now comments. “But there were other missionaries we also loved who just succumbed to the pressure and were corrupted by this race for numbers.”59

            The English, Scottish, Irish, and Welsh “under-class” absorbed the brunt of the baseball baptism abuses in Britain.  Families “on the dole” had been impressed by the slick-looking, smooth-talking American missionaries.  Their children thought they had joined an American baseball club, but later discovered that they were part of a church that made demands of them.  Many parents were so bitter that they could hardly speak civilly to a Mormon.  There were government-subsidized “Council House” areas in towns and cities throughout Britain where the missionaries dared not go in the mid-1960s because the residents threw stones at them.60 That was not some pathological anti-Mormonism, but a direct result of the deceptive baptism of adolescent boys into a Mormon “baseball club.” For twenty years, parents of these boys continued to express their anger about the baseball baptisms whenever LDS missionaries inadvertently “tracted up” these families.61

            Certainly neither President Moyle nor the mission presidents under his tutelage realized what the missionaries were really doing.  In his talk that outlined the “baseball club” program to European missionaries, President Dyer cautioned: “If we get 1,000 converts [one month] and in the next month only 200 or 300 are active, we have not done a very good job.”62 Mormon leaders thought they could impose incredible pressures on young missionaries without something snapping.  The leaders were wrong.

            All President Moyle and his supporters saw was the massive increase in baptisms and the illusion of spiritual growth.  Although their critics within and without the Church pointed to the abuses, a significant group of LDS leaders did not recognize the spiritual decay that lay under the surface.  It was a spiritual malaise that the Mormon hierarchy had inadvertently created and was unknowingly perpetuating.

                             CLEANING UP THE MESS

                            Mass excommunications

            IN the summer of 1963, the Church was in a crisis which resulted in the downfall of Counselor Moyle.  As recently as 1957, Zion’s First National Bank alone had $70 million in deposits of the Church’s once-secure reserves.  However, by 1963, LDS finances were so strained that Church “financial officers wondered if they would be able to meet the payroll.”63 Then the New York Times reported in May 1963 that the Church of Scotland officially condemned the Baseball Baptism  Program as the LDS church’s “most insidious approach.”64

            This negative publicity may have been the catalyst for a move to strip Moyle of his two major responsibilities (“his portfolio,” as one journalist put it).65 By July 1963, Joseph Fielding Smith, president of the Quorum of the Twelve, was now openly criticizing “the spending proclivities of President Moyle, also concerning the unorthodox way with which youngsters had been baptized in the Church. . . .”66 The other counselor, Hugh B. Brown, explained that “this resulted in downgrading of one of the counselors in the First Presidency and he died of a broken heart as a result of it.” Relieved of his direction of Church finances and of the missionary program, Henry D. Moyle died of a coronary in September 1963.67

            It’s certain that many missionaries during this period refused to compromise their ethics in order to meet baptism goals, to achieve awards, or even to avoid ostracism.  I felt tremendous admiration as I listened to their experiences.  It’s also clear that many of those baptized during the “baseball baptism era” were real converts who remained devoted Mormons.  I also met many of them.68

            However, other missionaries could not resist the unrelenting pressures to become baptizing machines.  As a result, thousands of unknowing, underage, untaught, or nonexistent persons ended up on the membership rolls of the LDS church in Great Britain.  World-wide, this amounted to tens of thousands of ill-prepared or deceived persons (mainly adolescent boys) who were baptized from 1959 to 1963.

            Some might doubt that these abuses of the Baseball Baptism Program were that common or widespread.  Apostle Mark E. Petersen’s presidency over all the British Isles is a significant evidence of the extent of the problem.  In the spring of 1964, he began a comprehensive program of excommunication throughout the British Isles, based on in-person interviews of every inactive person on the Church’s membership records.  The first goal was to teach all inactive Church members the proselytizing lessons that many of them had never received.  Then Elder Petersen himself provided seven more “fellowshipping lessons” for the full-time missionaries to teach to these inactive Mormons.  However, he also instructed missionaries and local leaders to excommunicate everyone who could not be fellowshipped and who did not want to be a member of the Church.69

            Like other British missionaries in 1964, I helped conduct that survey in the branch where I served.  I spoke with many of the boys who thought they had merely joined a baseball club, or who were actually under eight years old when they were baptized.  There were also membership records with nonexistent addresses or with names of people who had never lived at the listed addresses.

            I was assigned to preside over another branch that had eight active Mormons out of a membership roster of 150.  In accordance with Elder Petersen’s post-baseball program, I began holding Church courts to excommunicate those who didn’t want to be Mormon, who had never wanted it.  As I spoke with these boys, some were confused, others were bitter, many were indifferent.  The most painful reaction to see was their embarrassment when they learned that excommunication was the only way their names could be removed from the records of the Church.  The stigma of “excommunication” was the only remedy that Church procedures allowed at the time.70

            Three to four years after their baseball baptisms, most of these boys were barely teenagers; some much younger.  As I walked away from each of those interviews, I imagined other missionaries like myself looking into the eyes of such sports program “converts” in Ireland, France, or Latin America – where Catholic excommunication is so rare as to make headlines – or in Samoa, where Mormonism is the largest single church.

            I was twenty years old, and I excommunicated three times the number of my convert baptisms.  I was in frequent contact with the British Mission presidency during the three or four courts of mass excommunication that I conducted.  I followed President Petersen’s orders regarding the baseball-baptism boys who had been dunked by other missionaries simply following orders from their file leaders.I would have held as many excommunication courts as necessary to do the job: to free those boys from obligations they had never agreed to; to spare them from future inquiries (and implied guilt) about their not attending the Church into which they had been virtually kidnapped.  I nearly resigned as a missionary and left the Church myself during those months.

            Spiritual carnage was at both ends of the baseball baptism era.  I felt no moral superiority to those other missionaries who had performed the baseball baptisms, and I became an atheist during part of the time I was excommunicating their baseball “converts.” Looking back, I think that was an attempt to believe none of it mattered.  I was in tears during the last excommunication court I conducted in that branch.  I’m sure the mission president reassigned me as a traveling elder just as a face-saving way to release me as branch president.  My  atheism lasted only a few weeks, but I remember those months of 1964 as the darkest period of my Church experience.

            The English bishop of one ward told me he excommunicated 150 baseball-baptism boys in a two-week period, and the end was not yet in sight.  Such mass excommunications were happening in every ward and branch throughout the British Isles in the last months of 1964 and throughout 1965.

            Elder Cuthbert’s history of the British missions makes no reference to such results of the baseball program.  However, he acknowledged in BYU Studies that we “failed in our convert retention” from 1960 to 1965, by which time “the pendulum had swung too far,” after which “emphasis was placed on baptizing families rather than youth.” Nevertheless, Cuthbert still insisted that the “years 1960-64 were a golden era” for the British missions.71

            By the way, under the direction of Elder Petersen, the successors of all the “baseball baptism” mission presidents ended baptismal quotas and pressures.  This caused the convert baptisms in Britain to fall “drastically low.”72 For example, in describing the progress of the French Mission from 1963 to 1964, its mission staff and Elder Petersen himself both took a swipe at the Moyle-Woodbury use of the term “New Era”: “A strong and clear emphasis was placed on convert baptisms. . . .  Enthusiasm for what President Mark E. Petersen termed `really a New Era’ was mission wide, and it was mature”73 (emphasis in original).

            At the end of 1965, total membership in the LDS missions world-wide was nearly 15,000 less than at the end of 1964.  This was the largest one-year decline in total missionfield membership during previous Mormon history.  Less than 5,000 of that loss resulted from the formation of new stakes from missions in 1965.74 Thus, there were so many missionfield excommunications during 1965 that even new baptisms could not compensate numerically.  Since the net loss was 10,000 persons that year, the total missionfield excommunications numbered in the tens of thousands during 1965.  The vast majority of these excommunications were undoubtedly baseball-baptism boys.

            For several reasons the total excommunications of baseball baptism “converts” may have reached or exceeded 100,000 throughout the entire Church.  Mass excommunications began in Britain during 1964, but did not create a net loss of Church-wide mission membership that year.  The above estimate of excommunications in 1965 does not include excommunications in stakes during that year.  In addition, there were undoubtedly further excommunications of sports program converts in both missions and stakes after 1965.  Convert baptisms per year did not recover from the baseball-backlash until 1968.75


            HOWEVER, there is a larger perspective even for the rapid inactivity and/or mass excommunication of 90 percent (my estimate) of the baseball-baptism boys.  Of the British converts who were carefully taught fourteen or fifteen pre-baptism lessons between 1950 and 1956, official Church surveys show that 49 percent had left the Church by 1960.76 Cuthbert also acknowledges that “convert retention among the adult members was around fifty percent” during the massive growth of the early 1960s.77 It’s no coincidence that he failed to comment on the retention of youth converts.  The attrition rate of baseball baptisms was depressing, but it was less than twice the normative loss for Mormon conversions.

            Also, the administrative demotion of Henry D. Moyle did not damage the future Church careers of the two point-men in his building and baptism programs of 1959-63.  Wendell Mendenhall later became a regional representative of the Twelve Apostles.  T. Bowring Woodbury became a member of the Church Missionary Committee.  Woodbury also lived long enough to have the ironic satisfaction of seeing the First Presidency christen the Church’s youth magazine as the New Era in 1970.  This was the title of Woodbury’s publication which had promoted baseball baptisms of adolescents in Britain.78

            The other mission presidents also involved in Europe’s Baseball Baptism Program fared even more favorably.  N. Eldon Tanner became an apostle in October 1962, and later a member of the First Presidency.  Alvin R. Dyer became a special apostle (not a member of the Twelve) in 1967, and a special counselor to the First Presidency the next year.  In October 1962, Bernard P. Brockbank became an assistant to the Twelve.  Four years later, James A. Cullimore also became an assistant.  Both advanced to the First Quorum of Seventy.79 Henry D. Moyle had encouraged sports baptisms as a Church-wide program, and the First Presidency obviously felt that there should be no censure of those who carried out his instructions.

            On the rare occasions when Church leaders have acknowledged the abuses of the baseball baptism era, they have blamed the missionaries.  After all, weren’t those nineteen- and twenty-year-olds the ones who baptized the unprepared, the untaught, the underaged, the bribed, the deceived, and the exploited? Weren’t LDS missionaries the ones who forged baptismal certificates?80

            Yes, but that is blaming the victims.  Some missionaries who participated in baseball baptisms may have been willing – even eager – but they were nonetheless the real victims of that era.  The persons they took advantage of were objects of an exploitative I-It relationship for a few hours or less.  The missionaries of the Baseball Baptism Program were exploited constantly by their mission presidents for two years in a spiritually corrosive I-It relationship.

            The most serious victims were those missionaries who didn’t recognize that they were being spiritually abused.  Unless they confront emotionally and spiritually the fact of their being abused, the abused often become abusers when they have the power to do so.  This is true of abused Church members just as it is true of abused family members.  To an abused co-dependent, it seems humble to accept spiritual abuse from Church leaders and righteous to inflict spiritual abuse on Church subordinates.81


            WAS the baseball baptism era an unparalleled aberration in Mormon experience? Not from what a number of more recent LDS missionaries have told me.  Most of the “well-known salesmanship techniques” remained in the missionary lessons and program.82 In the decades since the 1960s, some mission presidents in Latin America have strongly urged missionaries to baptize people at the end of one meeting.  As a result many missionaries have left local Mormons to teach the rest of the gospel to the first-day converts.83

            Early in 1980, a mission president in Japan used lavish dinners and other rewards as “incentives” for missionaries to reach baptism goals.  The mission abbreviated the lesson-plan so that missionaries spent no more than an hour with “investigators” before baptizing them.  This program was “encouraged by the general authority who was acting as an area president without counselors.” Presidency counselor Gordon B. Hinckley asked missionaries about these developments just before the dedication of the Tokyo temple that October.  He ended the program by reinstituting the requirement for persons to attend at least one LDS meeting before baptism.84

            As one commentator observes, it is a more serious and widespread problem when abuses of missionary work occur in response to pressures and programs imposed by mission leaders.85 LDS leaders have recoiled from the phrase “baptism quota” during the thirty years since the baseball baptism era.  However, if a “baptism goal” involves conspicuous rewards for its achievement (or loss of privileges and status for its non-achievement), then that “goal” is a quota.  In such a missionary environment, I-It relationships are the norm, not the exception.

            Moreover, even self-imposed “baptism goals” can cause missionaries to engage in exploitation of potential converts.  In the early 1980s, some San Diego missionaries picked up illegal aliens as soon as they crossed the fence from Mexico, and took busloads of them to LDS chapels for a few hours of instruction and mass-baptism.  Mormon missionaries then helped these “illegals” to evade immigration officers in California.  Scouring California’s agricultural fields and Mexican border for illegals was a “bottom-up” missionary program.  The mission officially adopted it and soon became the “top-baptizer” in the LDS church, even though that had not been the mission president’s goal.86

             A missionary who returned from the Philippines in 1992 tells of some 1980s “converts” he contacted at the request of a local LDS leader.  One rural family had accepted baptism after a missionary promised that the Church would give them a water buffalo in exchange for being baptized.  They attended LDS services only long enough to learn that the missionary’s promise was not in Church records, even though their “water buffalo baptism” was.  Several Filipino boys in the same area ended up on the membership records after playing in the surf with some missionaries who had taken them to the beach.  Unlike missionaries involved with the “beach party” baptisms of the Gulf States Mission in the early 1960s, these 1980s missionaries gave the young Filipinos no gospel instruction and no hint that a ceremony occurred when they momentarily held the thrashing boys under the surf.87 These two elders did something more serious than violate the Church-wide missionary rule against swimming.

            Such actions by Mormon missionaries caused First Presidency counselor Gordon B. Hinckley to make a special plea to newly appointed mission presidents in the 1980s: “With all the powers of persuasion that I am capable of, I plead with you to train and motivate your missionaries to the point of view that it is converts they are out to win, rather than numbers of baptisms for the sake of a good statistical record.”88 Those who would argue that the exploitation of potential converts is not frequent or widespread among LDS missionaries must account for the earnest plea of President Hinckley.

            This essay’s examples of exploited “converts” occurred in LDS missions throughout the United States (in the Pacific northwest, eastern states, Gulf states, southwestern states) and  throughout the world (in Britain, continental Europe, Latin America, Japan, and the Philippines).  These missionary abuses have continued to crop up from the “New Era” of 1959-61, through the “Correlation Era” of 1961-73, through the “Lengthen Your Stride Era” of 1973-85, and undoubtedly to the present.89

            Parley P. Pratt, Heber C. Kimball, and Wilford Woodruff performed hundreds of baptisms each during their missions in the 1830s, and that has often been used as the inspiration for “accelerated baptisms” since the 1950s.  However, there is no evidence that these early Mormon apostles ever set a numerical goal or time period for baptizing anyone, nor “challenged” any missionary to do so.90 “Salesmanship techniques” were not a factor in the massive conversions of the early Mormon missionary experience.  In my view, that is why the first century of Mormonism was also virtually free of the kind of all-too-frequent exploitation common to the Mormon missionary experience since the 1950s.

            As a historian I’ve traced some of the consequences of that modern change in LDS missionary work, but as a believing Mormon I earnestly hope for a reversal of those trends.  Missionary exploitation will become rare only when there is a Church-wide abandonment of baptism goals in any form, abandonment of missionary competition, abandonment of comparative baptism charts.  It is unrealistic to expect youthful missionaries to completely avoid exploiting potential converts until there is a Church-wide rejection of every explicit or implied use of baptism numbers to evaluate the faith, diligence, success, worth, or future prospects of the missionaries.

            That revitalization of the Spirit in Mormon missionary service will be more effective if it is “top-down” from Church headquarters.  However, that transition can also occur by an I-Thou emphasis of individual missionaries, of parents, of a missionary’s friends, of individual bishops and branch presidents, and of individual mission presidents.  Exploitation of converts and I-It proselytizing are systemic results of the “salesmanship techniques” in LDS missionary work since the 1950s, but such abuses can become as rare as “going without purse or scrip” now is.

            However, a recent news article also shows that deceptive baptisms are not a problem peculiar to Mormonism.  A Baptist church in Colorado sponsored a carnival, and then baptized all attending children under the pretense of “water games.”91

            Such abuse of religious ordinances will occur whenever leaders or missionaries of any religion regard externals as more important than one’s relationship with God.  Church leaders who maintain an I-Thou relationship with God will not require subordinates to have an I-It relationship with their church or its ordinances.  All of us can benefit from remembering the example of those Mormon missionaries during the baseball baptism era who quietly maintained the integrity of their relationship with God, despite overwhelming pressures to the contrary.  No one who has an I-Thou relationship will act or speak as if the Gospel of Christ were a commodity, or regard converts as trophies.

            Nor, for that matter, will such an LDS leader treat Church members as disposable property – to be ignored or discarded when the leader has grown weary of them.  Those who have an I-Thou relationship with God recognize that they themselves are no more important to God than the leper, the Down’s syndrome baby, the unconverted, the welfare mother, the thief, the libertine, the excommunicated, the drug addict, the street beggar, the juvenile delinquent, the uneducated, the feminist, the intellectual, the disoriented, or the AIDS patient.

            Jesus embraced, ate and drank with, listened to, and comforted those who were hurting, discontented, prodigal, or rejected, while Pharisees claimed that Christ was facing the wrong way.  Instead, Jesus turned away from every Pharisee who was an apostle of spiritual decay.  God has an I-Thou relationship with all His children, not just those who consider themselves righteous or “His people.” That perception (or lack of it) will determine what kind of missionary experience an individual has, and what kind of Church experience one has.


            1.  For a better presentation than I could ever give of the difference between I-Thou and I-It relationships, see Martin Buber’s small paperback I and Thou, trans.  Walter Kaufman and S.G. Smith (New York: Scribner, 1978).

            2.  Author’s interview with Spencer W. Kimball, 2 February 1979, quoted in J. Reuben Clark: The Church Years (Provo, Utah: Brigham Young University Press, 1983), 304, n.107.

            3.  April 1959 Conference Report, 91-92; Ernest L. Wilkinson diary, 4 December 1959, Western Americana, J. Willard Marriott Library, University of Utah, Salt Lake City, Utah; LDS Church Financial Department’s Condensed Financial Report to the Corporation of the President, 12 April 1961 (for summary from 1950 to 1960), LDS Church Archives, Historical Department, Salt Lake City.  Wilkinson’s diary for 4 December 1959 said the Budget Committee announced “the Church last year had spent $8,000,000 in excess of its income,” which leaves the impression that he referred to 1958.  However, the Financial Department reports show that deficit was in 1959, which means Wilkinson’s diary reference to “last year” referred to the year which was just ending in December 1959.

            4.  L. Brent Goates, Harold B. Lee: Prophet and Seer (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1985), 381.  This biography scrupulously avoids identifying Henry D. Moyle as the one who promoted all this deficit spending. 

            5.  William F. Edwards, Budget Preparation and Control Report to the First Presidency (Salt Lake City: N.p., 21 October 1955), 6.

            6.  T. Bowring Woodbury, “A Surge of Spirit among the Saints and President McKay’s Prophetic Words – `This is a New Era in the British Mission,’ ” Millennial Star 120 (November 1958): 325, gives two direct quotes from President McKay.  First his words upon setting Woodbury apart as mission president: “a New Era begins in the British Mission.” Second, President McKay’s dedicatory remarks at the London Temple: “This is a great day for the members of the Church in the British Mission . . .  The Temple is the opening of a New Era.” The alleged quote in the title of Woodbury’s article is a sort of paraphrase and synthesis of President McKay’s actual statements.  LDS general authority Derek A. Cuthbert’s The Second Century: Latter-day Saints in Great Britain, 1937-1987 (Salt Lake City: By the author, 1987), 37, reproduces Woodbury’s slogan from the British Missionary bulletin The New Era and attributes the alleged quote to McKay’s temple dedication.  However, Cuthbert had already quoted the different wording of thededicatory remarks on page 33.

            7.  James B. Allen and Glen M. Leonard, The Story of the Latter-day Saints, 2 ed. rev. (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company, 1992), 549, refers to “salesmanship techniques.” Richard O. Cowan, The Church in the Twentieth Century (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1985), 281, notes that many missions used the fifteen-lesson “Anderson Plan” prepared by Richard L. Anderson.  Allen and Leonard (568) note that since 1952 a seven-lesson plan “was optional and some missions continued to produce their own plans.” On 17 August 1993, Ted A. McKay (a British missionary from 1958 to 1960) told me that his mission had fourteen missionary lessons until it adopted six in 1959.  On the other hand, Cuthbert, Second Century, 45, says that the British Mission used eighteen lessons until the Moyle-Woodbury era.

            8.  Ted A. McKay interview, 17 August 1993; also see “European Mission Presidents Meet In Hamburg,” Millennial Star 121 (October 1959): 413, for Romney’s visit.

            9. “A Uniform System For Teaching Investigators, Presented at Mission Presidents’ School, June 1961, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints,” mimeographed draft in my possession; “Mission Presidents Get Uniform Plan For Teaching Gospel,” LDS Church News, 1 July 1961, 3; “New Mission Plan Ready,” LDS Church News, 19 Aug 1961, 2; A Uniform Plan for Teaching the Gospel (Salt Lake City: Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1961); James B. Allen and Richard O. Cowan, Mormonism in the Twentieth Century (Provo, Utah: Brigham Young University Extension Publications, 1964), 140-41; James B. Allen, “David O. McKay,” in Encyclopedia of Mormonism: The History, Scripture, Doctrine, and Procedure of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 4 vols., ed.  Daniel H. Ludlow (New York: Macmillan Publishing Co., 1992), 2:873.  Some histories claim that this 1961 lesson plan was seven lessons, but it was six.  When I arrived in England in 1963 with my Utah imprint of the plan, I found there were only sligt differences in wording between the Salt Lake City imprint and the version printed since 1959 by the British Mission.

            10.  LDS Church News, 29 Oct. 1960, 3; Henry D. Moyle diary, 26 November 1960, LDS Church Archives; also his “The Fullness of the Work,” Millennial Star 123 (February 1961): 53-55; Wendell Mendenhall, “Serve as a Labour Missionary,” Millennial Star 123 (May 1961): 221.

            11.  Deseret News 1993-1994 Almanac (Salt Lake City: Deseret News, 1992), 361, for January 1960; Cuthbert, Second Century, 55-56, 58.  However, building missionaries or labor missionaries had served in Pacific island missions since the 1950s.  Cowan, The Church in the Twentieth Century, 298; Allen and Leonard, The Story of the Latter-day Saints, 571-72; Paul L. Anderson and Richard W. Jackson, “Building Program” in Ludlow, Encyclopedia of Mormonism 1:237.

            12.  Cuthbert, Second Century, 52.

            13.  Francis M. Gibbons, Joseph Fielding Smith: Gospel Scholar, Prophet of God (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company, 1992), 430.

            14.  Robert Gottlieb and Peter Wiley, America’s Saints: The Rise of Mormon Power (New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1984), 101-02, 135; LDS Church Financial Department’s Condensed Financial Report to the Corporation of the President, 20 December 1962; Ernest L. Wilkinson diary, 6 March 1963.

            15. “Witnesses to the Divinity of Missionary Program,” LDS Church News, 25 Feb. 1961, 14.

            16. “Witnesses to the Divinity of Missionary Program,” LDS Church News, 25 Feb. 1961, 14.

            17. “Excerpts from a Discourse by Elder Harold B. Lee,” 29 March 1960, French Mission Diary, 1.

            18.  Wilkinson diary, 6 September 1960.

            19. “Remarks of President Alvin R. Dyer, Supervising Elders’ Conference, Paris, October 31, 1960,” photocopy in my possession.

            20.  Moyle diary, 15 December 1960.

            21.  Cuthbert, Second Century, 52.

            22.  Dyer to French missionary conference, 20 November 1960, , photocopy in my possession.

            23.  Wilkinson diary, 25 May 1961, also 6 September 1960.

            24.  Henry D. Moyle, “Conversion to Gospel Comes when Spirit Touches Hearts of People,” LDS Church News, 5 Aug. 1961, 14.

            25.  LDS Church News, 30 Dec. 1961, 4. 

            26. “Convert-Baptisms Reach All-time High of 47,912,” LDS Church News, 9 Sept. 1961, 4.

            27. “Spirit of Conversion Places 75,500 on Mission Records,” LDS Church News, 30 Dec. 1961, 4.

            28.  For example, “All-Church Basketball Tournament,” LDS Church News, 24 Feb. 1962, 8-9, reported that 3,500 teams were involved in the all-Church basketball tournament.  For the final playoffs, teams went to Salt Lake City from the throughout the United States, Canada, and Mexico.

            29.  Allen and Leonard, The Story of the Latter-day Saints, 610, also referred to this general approach, but did not specify any mission.

            30.  Reported by Marion D. Hanks, my mission president, in a private conversation with me.  This quote appeared in D. Michael Quinn Oral History, 4 January 1973, 14, LDS Historical Department, which I put under restriction until 1993.

            31.  Cuthbert, Second Century, 52-53, 64; “Aaronic Priesthood,” Millennial Star 121 (March 1959): 98.

            32.  Douglas James Davies, Mormon Spirituality: Latter Day Saints in Wales and Zion (Nottingham, Eng.: University of Nottingham Press, 1987), 140.

            33.  French East Mission, First Edition of The Record (April 1961), [3-4], photocopy in my possession, also copy in Special Collections, Harold B. Lee Library, Brigham Young University, Provo, Utah.  The mission publication used the French phrase, but mistakenly dropped the “i” from “americain.”

            34.  Peggy Peterson Barton, Mark E. Peterson: A Biography (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1985), 122; also, Allen and Leonard, The Story of the Latter-day Saints, 610, refers generally to “Church leaders” who “took steps to change” the Baseball Baptism Program.

            35.  Cuthbert, Second Century, 53.

            36. [T. Bowring Woodbury], “Baseball as a Proselyting Tool,” Millennial Star 122 (November 1960): 481-82; author’s interview with Ted A. McKay, 17 August 1993.  McKay served in Woodbury’s mission from 1958 to 1960, during which time he served as assistant to the president, traveling elder, and supervising elder.

            37.  Cuthbert, Second Century, 205, 207, 211.

            38.  N. Eldon Tanner, remarks to supervising elders of the French East Mission at Geneva, Switzerland, 11 January 1962, 5, photocopy in my possession.  G. Homer Durham, N. Eldon Tanner: His Life and Service (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company, 1982), 191, comments on the baptism increase, but makes no reference to the baseball program that fueled it.  However, Durham observes (186) that Tanner had never served a full-time mission before his assignment as West European Mission president, which may explain why Tanner did not recognize the problems.

            39.  N. Eldon Tanner, statement in “European Mission Presidents Report Convert-Baptisms of 1,000 Each Month,” LDS Church News 30 Sept. 1961, 3; compare with Tanner, “By the Word of Their Testimony,” Improvement Era 64 (December 1961): 960.

            40.  Deseret News 1993-1994 Church Almanac, 292-93; Alvin R. Dyer remarks to French missionary conference in Lyon, 19 January 1961, [12], photocopy in my possession.  Without specifying “three minutes,” Dyer’s The Challenge (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company, 1962), 48, insisted: “Actually some investigators can be challenged for baptism the first time they are met if the missionaries are led to do so.”

            41.  Cuthbert, Second Century, 35, 75.

            42.  Except where otherwise indicated, the following information first appeared in Quinn Oral History, 1973, 5-22.

            43.  Cuthbert, Second Century, 35, 36, 44, expresses that adulation.

            44.  To reduce the number of footnotes, my frequent citations to the British Mission’s the New Era are limited to text references.  This publication is available in Special Collections, Lee Library, Brigham Young University.

            45.  Terry Warner, “The New Era – Then and Now,” Millennial Star 122 (August 1960): 368; also see the British Mission’s the New Era.

            46.  Cuthbert, Second Century, 76.

            47.  Cuthbert, Second Century, 52.

            48.  Cuthbert, Second Century, 45-46.

            49.  Dyer, The Challenge, 53.

            50.  Related by this missionary’s step-brother as part of the audience comments following my presentation of this paper at the Sunstone symposium, Salt Lake City, 14 August 1993.

            51.  For example, “Moyle Month,” Chronicle: French Mission Edition, 27 Oct. 1960, 1, photocopy in my possession; “Moyle Month,” Millennial Star 122 (November 1960): 473.

            52.  In response to what this other missionary told me in 1967, Ted A. McKay suggested to me on 17 August 1993 that the incident was unintentional.  According to McKay, Woodbury frequently forgot the names of his missionaries, and often spoke to them without identifying them in any way.

            53.  Related to me during a conversation with the “senior” missionary, following my presentation of this paper at the Sunstone symposium, 14 August 1993.

            54. “Remarks of President Alvin R. Dyer at Supervising Elders’ Conference – French, French East and Dutch Missions – Paris, France, Sunday, April 9, 1961,” [pp. 6, 9], photocopy in my possession.  Pages 7-8 give the goal of family baptism and the requirement for written permission.

            55.  In addition to the missionary sources upon which I based my 1973 account of these actions, Lyndon W. Cook stated to me on 14 August 1993 that he discovered the same abuses when he interviewed former baseball converts as a British missionary in 1964.  Cook is co-editor of The Words of Joseph Smith: The Contemporary Accounts of the Nauvoo Discourses of the Prophet Joseph (Provo, Utah: Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University, 1980), Far West Record: Minutes of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1830-40 (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company, 1983), Kirtland Elders’ Quorum Record, 1836-1841 (Provo, Utah: Grandin Book Co., 1985), and author of The Revelations of the Prophet Joseph Smith: A Historical and Biographical Commentary of the Doctrine and Covenants (Provo, Utah: Seventy’s Mission Bookstore, 1981), and Joseph Smith and the Law of Consecration (Provo, Utah: Grandin Books, 1985).

            56.  Former British missionary Ted A. McKay described this telegram in his interview of 17 August 1993, and his description was similar to the words I’ve quoted from Woodbury’s reference to the incident in “The Inspiration of Henry Dinwood[e]y Moyle,” Millennial Star 122 (January 1960): 21.

            57.  Woodbury, “The Inspiration of Henry Dinwood[e]y Moyle,” 22, and back cover; Warner, “The New Era – Then and Now,” 368.

            58.  Ted A. McKay interview, 17 August 1993.  After listening to 1 1/2 hours of McKay’s defense of Woodbury’s leadership, I was stunned by this account and had to ask McKay to repeat it so I could take notes.  McKay left the British Mission in January 1960 as a supervising elder, but had also previously been an assistant to the president and traveling elder whose duties were outlined in Millennial Star 121 (March 1959): 112.  An accountant for many years, this former British missionary says that such “numbers games” are routine in corporate reports of monthly earnings in order to encourage a short-term increase in stock values.  However, he says that since 1960 he has been saddened to know that Woodbury had used such a technique in the British Mission.

            59.  Irene Bates statement during the audience comments following my presentation  of this paper at the Sunstone symposium, 14 August 1993, and reconfirmed in her telephone conversation with me on 17 August 1993.  For the British Mission positions of Irene and William Bates, see “Primary” and “Mutuals,” Millennial Star 121 (March 1959): 100-01.

            60.  Sherman Fuller, “August [1960]: Youth Programme Catches Fire: Baseball Brings in Youth,” Millennial Star 123 (January 1961): 14, described how all the adolescents “at a little council estate” either watched or played “our little softball game,” while “a big football [soccer] game was on the other side and nobody watching them.”

            61.  My telephone interview on 7 September 1993 with Devery S. Anderson, who served as an LDS missionary in southern England from 1979 to 1981.  At the time he had no idea what “baseball baptisms” were.

            62.  Alvin R. Dyer, remarks to Supervising Elders of French, French East, and Dutch Missions, 9 April 1961, . 

            63.  David O. McKay diary, 13 December 1957; Durham, N. Eldon Tanner, 208.

            64.  New York Times, 13 May 1963, 31.

            65.  Peter Scarlet, “Periodic Dissent at Top Big Part of LDS History,” Salt Lake Tribune, 9 Aug. 1991, B-2. 

            66.  Wilkinson diary, 9 July 1963.

            67.  Hugh B. Brown interview, 30 November 1969, side 2 transcription, p. 21, Box 3, Edwin B. Firmage papers, Western Americana, Marriott Library.

            68.  Barton, Mark E. Petersen, 124, refers to this survey of inactive Mormons, but does not mention that it included an option to recommend excommunication.

            69.  For examples, see “A Boy, A Baseball, and a Family of Thirteen,” Millennial Star 124 (September 1962): 231.

            70.  Lester Bush Jr., “Excommunication and Church Courts: A Note from the General Handbook of Instructions,” Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 14 (Summer 1981): 74-98.  Only in the past few years have LDS procedures allowed a kind of “no-fault divorce” from the Church by a written request to the Membership Department for removing one’s name from its record of members.

            71.  Derek A. Cuthbert, “Church Growth in the British Isles, 1937-1987,” Brigham Young University Studies 27 (Spring 1987): 15, 17, 16.  These statements did not appear in his Second Century, which was published the same year.

            72.  Barton, Mark E. Petersen, 124, also 122-23.  Cuthbert, Second Century, 198, presents a chart of convert baptisms that shows this decline in part.  By grouping baptisms in five-year intervals instead of yearly, however, Cuthbert’s chart minimizes the full extent of the massive decrease in convert baptisms upon Marion D. Hanks’s abruptly ending the baseball program in January 1962.  Nevertheless, his chart still shows that baptisms from 1965 to 1969 were almost 60 percent lower than baptisms from 1960 to 1964.  Cowan, The Church in the Twentieth Century, 280, demonstrates that decline graphically in part by showing the number of “Converts Per Missionary” for Europe in 1961-65 as compared to the next period of his chart, 1976-80.  However, unlike Cuthbert, Cowan did not even mention the Baseball Baptism Program in his discussion of “Proselyting Methods” during David O. McKay’s presidency (276-83).

            73.  French Mission, “The Hinckley Years: September 1961-October 1964, Strength in Spiritual Growth,” photocopy in my possession.  Without using the word “New Era,” Barton’s Mark E. Petersen, 122-23, presents the same perspective of change from the Woodbury years.

            74.  Deseret News 1993-1994 Church Almanac, 398.  Of twelve new stakes formed in 1965, only two (with a total population of 4,760) were formed from a mission – ironically, the Gulf States Mission.  See Deseret News 1989-1990 Church Almanac (Salt Lake City: Deseret News, 1988), 227; 1993-1994 Church Almanac, 141.

            75.  Allen and Leonard, The Story of the Latter-day Saints, 610.

            76. “Remarks of President Alvin R. Dyer, Missionary Conference, Paris, France, November 20, 1960,” 1. See above for discussion of the number of missionary lessons in Britain and Europe before 1959.

            77.  Cuthbert, Second Century, 52.

            78. “Regional Representatives: 7 Called to Serve the Church,” LDS Church News, 1 Aug. 1970, 5; and “T.B. Woodbury, Churchman, Dies,” Deseret News, 18 Oct. 1972, B-5; The New Era of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (January 1970-).

            79.  Deseret News 1993-1994 Church Almanac, 48, 69.

            80.  Christine Herbruck, Breaking the Cycle of Child Abuse (San Francisco: Harper, 1979); Pamela Fong, Breaking the Cycle: Survivors of Child Abuse and Neglect (New York: Norton, 1991); David Johnson and Jeff Van Vonderen, The Subtle Power of Spiritual Abuse: Recognizing and Escaping Spiritual Manipulation and False Spiritual Authority within the Church (Minneapolis, Minnesota: Bethany House Publications, 1991); and J. Frederick Voros Jr.’s application of their insights to Mormonism in “Another Kind of Abuse,” Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 26 (Spring 1993): esp. 190-91.

            81.  Allen and Leonard, The Story of the Latter-day Saints, 549.

            82.  My observations as a branch president, and the statements to me at the time by British bishops and branch presidents; also statements to me on 14 August 1993 by Lyndon W. Cook, who also interviewed former baseball converts.

            83.  Erin Silva, statement to me, 14 March 1993, concerning his mission in Latin America in the 1960s; also statements of other returned missionaries who served in South America in the 1970s. 

            84.  Statements of returned missionaries from Japan, during audience remarks after my reading of this paper at Sunstone symposium, 14 August 1993.

            85.  Daniel Rector emphasized this in his formal response to this paper at the Sunstone symposium, 14 August 1993.

            86.  Reported in Daniel Rector’s remarks, 14 August 1993.  Rector personally knew an LDS missionary in San Diego who boasted of being the “coyote” for thousands of what this missionary called “Wetback converts.” “Coyote” is the slang term for a person who helps illegal aliens across the Mexican border into the United States, usually for a price.

            87.  Patrick McGovern, statements to me on 28 July 1993.

            88. “Motivate for Conversions, Not Statistics,” LDS Church News, 3 July 1983, 3.

            89.  Allen and Leonard, The Story of the Latter-day Saints, 599-601, 628-29 for the latter two terms.

            90.  Autobiography of Parley P. Pratt (1874; Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1961); Scott G. Kenney, ed., Wilford Woodruff’s Journal: 1833-1898 Typescript, 9 vols., plus index (Murray, Utah: Signature Books, 1983-85, 1991); Stanley B. Kimball, ed., On the Potter’s Wheel: The Diaries of Heber C. Kimball (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1987).  Also the historical studies of S. George Ellsworth, “A History of Mormon Missions in the United States and Canada, 1830-1860,” (Ph.D. diss., University of California at Berkeley, 1951); James B. Allen and Malcolm R. Thorp, “The Mission of the Twelve to England, 1840-41: Mormon Apostles and the Working Classes,” Brigham Young University Studies 15 (Summer 1975): 499-526; Larry C. Porter, ” `The Field Is White Already to Harvest’: Earliest Missionary Labors and the Book of Mormon,” in The Prophet Joseph: Essays on the Life and Mission of Joseph Smith, ed.  Porter and Susan Easton Black, (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1988), 73-89; James B. Allen, Ronald K. Esplin, and Dvid J. Whittaker, Men With a Mission, 1837-1841: The Quorum of the Twelve Apostles in the British Isles (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1992).

            91. “Mother Irate that Child’s Carnival Dunking Was Deceptive Baptism,” Salt Lake Tribune, 19 June 1993, D-3. 

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