UPDATE: Elder D. Todd Christofferson also visited the South America Northwest Area with Elder Neil L. Andersen (source, archive, English Version) (Deseret News article). According to the article, the both visited the area between August 21-29, 2014
While the title “New Mormon Converts Must Pay to be Baptized?” is a little sensational it seems to now be true in parts of South America. There have been multiple reports (see below) from missionaries in the South America Northwest area that new converts “need to pay an offering of tithing before their baptism” (I first saw this on Reddit). This seems, on the surface, similar to the Catholic sell of indulgences as it requires people to pay money in order to receive the “saving ordinance of baptism”.
The following missions are part of the area (organized by country):
- Perú (Arequipa, Chiclayo, Cusco, Huancayo, Iquitos, Lima Central, Lima East, Lima North, Lima South, Lima West, Piura, Trujillo)
- Bolivia (Cochabamba, La Paz, Santa Cruz)
- Ecuador (Guayaquil North, Guayaquil South, Quito)
- Colombia (Barranquilla, Bogota North, Bogota, South, Cali)
- Venezuela (Barcelona, Caracas, Maracaibo, Valencia)
On September 15, 2014 (Monday) Sister McKenna Hill of the Bolivia Cochabamba Mission said they had just had a “special conference with Elder Waddell, the seventy representing our region.” She continues (screenshot, archive, emphasis mine):
“He talked a LOT about not baptizing less actives. He said out of 1,800,000 members, 1 MILLION of them don´t go to church. A million. So. We know have higher standards before someone can get baptized. They need 3 attendances in a row in ALL 3 classes. AND need to pay an offering of tithing before their baptism. This is helping us to ensure true conversion. Wow. It was inspired. “
Similar news came from Sister Jones of the Peru Lima West Mission. Recall that the South America Northwest Area is headquartered in Lima, Peru.On September 8, 2014 Sister Alayna Jones said (screenshot, archive, emphasis mine):
“We went to Lima and had our monthly leadership training which was awesome. They put in a couple of new rules for baptizing in this area. The investigators have to attend church three times, and they have to go to church all three hours three times before getting baptized. Also, they have to pay some sort of offering or donation before they can get baptized. It will make things a bit trickier but I can definitely see the wisdom in these rules, making sure that the converts remain active and faithful members of the church. We’ll see what type of good results it brings!”
“WEDNESDAY, we taught Jean Franko about fasting because there is a new rule just for this ward, that the investigators need to fast and pay a fast offering in order to be baptized. interesting. it went really well and he said that he would do it. i feel like he has a need, but we just cant find it. he sort of avoids the topic of baptism, but with faith and patience i think we will get there! “
While Elder Maxwell claims this is a rule for the particular ward he is serving in, that doesn’t make sense because 1) wards don’t make rules regarding who can or can’t be baptized–the rules are set by the mission president, and 2) there are other accounts that similar rules are being enforced in other areas of Lima, Peru as well as in Bolivia.
Interestingly, this new rule appears on three blogs (spanning three missions), just weeks after Elder Neil L. Anderson visited and met (screenshot, archive) with members of the Area Presidency. It is difficult for me to imagine he is not aware of this rule.
In summary, there are accounts of this rule being implemented in three missions:
- Peru Lima East Mission with Mission President John W. Boswell
- Peru Lima West Mission with Mission President Blake D. Archibald
- Bolivia Cochabamba Mission with Mission President Dan L. Dyer
The Church Handbook of Instructions (CHI), as far as I can tell, does not explicitly forbid charging for baptism, but Book 2 does forbid charging for two things associated with baptism:
- “No charge is made for using a baptismal font”
- “Local units should have baptismal clothing available and should not charge for its use”
Maybe they have read Neylan McBaine’s new book Women at Church and are taking an approach she recommends. In her book she suggests that silence in the CHI on a matter should be taken as an opportunity to make our own decisions based on local circumstances rather as a general prohibition on the subject. To illustrate that she quotes a stake president (emphasis mine):
“I went through the handbook. I couldn’t find anything that proscribed young women visiting teaching with Relief Society sisters. I think going through the handbook is always a good practice because a lot of times things are rooted in tradition or folklore or it’s just the unwritten order of things, which is important, but many times the handbook is silent and we are free to make our best decisions.“
The Book of Mormon, however, twice mentions baptism/forgiveness and money. Neither time is it encouraged:
- “Come, my brethren, every one that thirsteth, come ye to the waters; and he that hath no money, come buy and eat; yea, come buy wine and milk without money and without price.” (2 Nephi 9:50)
- “Yea, it shall come in a day when there shall be churches built up that shall say: Come unto me, and for your money you shall be forgiven of your sins.” (Mormon 8:32)
Finally, Boyd K. Packer has spoken on the matter of offerings in his April 1990 General Conference speech titled “Teach Them Correct Principles”. In it he says (emphasis his):
“The scriptures speak of tithes and of offerings; they do not speak of assessments or fund-raising. To be an offering, it must be given freely—offered. The way is open now for many more of us to participate in this spiritually refining experience.”
However, no longer is just a commitment to pay tithing a requirement for the “saving ordinance of baptism”, but it is actually required that one pay an “offering” (as an assessment of commitment or worthiness)–something President Packer explicitly spoke against.