Over the weekend, some posters at RfM referenced something called "baseball baptisms". The term was used in a post about four Mexican Mormon missionaries in Chihuahua who were trying to recruit three brothers aged 9 and 11 into the church. The missionaries lured the kids with junk food and apparently asked them to undress-- probably so they could put on the white garment used when people get baptized. The kids got scared and told their parents, who called the police. The missionaries involved ended up getting arrested.
I was curious about the term "baseball baptisms", so I looked it up. Basically, it was an idea put forth in the late 1950s as a way to grow the church. Kids (probably mostly boys) were recruited for church run sports leagues. To be a part of the team, they had to be baptized. This technique apparently worked well enough that it got the name "baseball baptisms", but baseball was not the only sport they played. For example, in some areas, they used soccer (football) to get kids into the religion.
On a purely simplistic level, this is kind of a sneaky way for missionaries to get their baptism numbers up. Maybe it even sounds harmless to some people, especially those who think the LDS church is the best church there is. On the other hand, since these are kids who have families that probably never joined the church, this isn't a legitimate way to grow a religion. It's also underhanded, disrespectful, and deceitful.
According to the news articles, the Mexican missionaries weren't forming sports teams. Based on what I read, admittedly poorly translated by Google, the missionaries were using candy, chips, and soda to get new young converts. In order to get the goodies, the boys had to be dunked. It almost sounds like something you'd seen on an episode of Desperate Housewives.
If I were the parent of a kid who was baptized in this manner, I would be pretty furious. Religious beliefs are very personal and definitely the family's domain when children are involved. While ultimately, a "baseball baptism" into the LDS church may mostly involve simply being dunked in water, it's potentially risky and traumatizing. Besides the fact that we're talking about tricking kids into changing religions, and the religion in question is pretty demanding, some children are afraid of being dunked. And some kids have health problems that make eating junk food especially risky. What if the kid is diabetic or has an allergy?
While the missionaries probably weren't intending to hurt the kids, the children were right to be scared. It's highly inappropriate for grown men to be luring children to church without their parents' knowledge or consent. The kids were right to tell their parents, who were also right to call the authorities.
The missionaries were boneheaded to even attempt such a stunt. I do wonder, though, how much pressure these guys were under to even try such a thing. Did these missionaries have any common sense whatsoever? Were they blinded by pressure to get their numbers up, no matter what they had to do? What possessed these guys to use candy to try to trick children into being dunked? My guess is that someone in the local leadership, perhaps the mission president, lectured them about getting more people baptized. So they decided to use an old method that worked in an earlier day.
It seems to me that offering junk food for a baptism would ultimately be ineffective. Eating a candy bar takes maybe a minute and then it's over. Sports, on the other hand, offers a real chance to get kids hooked on religion. If you're luring kids with sports, then presumably you'd have practices, where the church's message could be conveyed and imprinted on impressionable young minds. You'd have games with other teams of kids formed by missionaries, where there would be a chance to make friends with church members.
A true "baseball baptism" would be a much better and more effective way to get legitimate converts. But forming sports teams takes time and effort. Maybe these missionaries didn't have the time to form a team. Maybe they weren't interested in getting true converts and were just going through the motions to get their mission president off their backs. Whatever their reasons were, I'd be surprised if this story ever gets into the Deseret News.