I just returned from a Single Adult Conference, where I gave two workshop presentations. My presentations were Q&A sessions, where people could raise any question they wanted about the Church, be it relating to scripture, history, doctrine or practice. The workshops went very well, and I am pleased by the result. My biggest fear was that no one would have any questions, but that was not realized; there were plenty of questions, and we enjoyed a vigorous discussion.
In the course of the afternoon, one of the sisters there was telling me that she lives in an inner-city ward, which is about half anglo and half black and hispanic. She was distraught because they have been losing black members in droves recently. I asked her whether it was the practice to have a frank discussion about the priesthood ban before people were baptized in that ward, and she indicated it was not.
This did not surprise me, because we recently had the elders over for dinner, and they indicated that they were teaching a black family. I asked them whether there was a mission policy about explaining the priesthood ban prior to baptism, and they said there was not, and as far as they knew no one ever raised it unless the person or family raised it first.
I am a big believer in the value of inoculation. Exposing someone to a difficult or controversial issue in a controlled environment, say a church classroom surrounded by people of faith, is always much better than trying to do damage control after someone has learned of the issue from a hostile source.
Generally, the Church isn’t big on the concept of inoculation. Institutionally it seems to prefer the approach of not mentioning problems or difficult issues, and hoping they just don’t ever come up.
I can understand this preference on the part of the Church for a lot of things. But baptizing an American black without first explaining the priesthood ban is in an entirely different class. Because it’s not a question of if, but only when that person is going to learn that prior to 1978 blacks couldn’t hold the priesthood. They will learn this at some point, from some source. That should be a given.
Yes, if you raise the priesthood ban on your own motion, some investigators may decide not to be baptized. That is a risk to the inoculation approach. But many blacks can handle the notion of the ban, if you tell them straight up. What church in America didn’t have racist policies and problems? And if you raise the issue on your own motion, you’ve now inoculated them and protected them from being shocked when Aunt Sally tells them about it later.
But if you fail to tell them about it, the odds are much, much higher that they are going to drop out when they learn of it. Put yourself in their position–wouldn’t you? The feeling of having been deceived is much worse than just dealing with the substantive issue of the ban itself straight up.
I therefore would like to postulate the following principle:
To baptize a black person or family without first having a conversation about the priesthood ban is per se missionary malpractice.