Thursday, November 09, 2006

And now for something completely different

It just occurred to me that I might a "bad Methodist" for something other than gay issues: my views on baptism. In the United Methodist church, we practice infant baptism. I can't say I'm exactly against it; it doesn't particularly bother me that we baptize babies. But for me, baptism is a symbol of a commitment an individual makes to God, not a symbol of a commitment an individual's parent makes on his or her behalf.

I get this from my father. My dad was a Baptist and my mother was a Catholic and they got married (after breaking up like five times for "religious differences") in a Baptist church back in the day when Catholics were excommunicated if they were married by anyone other than a Catholic priest and "good Catholics" were supposed to shun weddings that involved a Catholic being married by anyone other than a Catholic priest. My mother was, in fact, excommunicated and my father's best friend and several of my mother's cousins refused to attend their wedding because of this. My grandmother, to her credit, not only risked her standing in the church by attending, but actively encouraged my mother to try out my dad's church and see what she thought before breaking up with him for good.

When my parents decided to get married in a Baptist church, my mother was forced to be re-baptized. This bothers me a lot. Whatever I might think about infant baptism, it still is a baptism. She didn't need a second one, particularly one by immersion when she has a water phobia. Far from being the spiritual sacrament baptism should be, it was a traumatic experience, and an infuriating one because they were basically invalidating the baptism she'd already had, which meant something to her.

But my father, good Baptist that he was, didn't believe in infant baptisms and my mother took her promise to raise us kids as Protestants very seriously, so my brothers and I were not baptized when we were babies. The Baptist church didn't really work out for my parents, so they started going to a United Methodist church when I was a young child. It was a nice happy medium--Protestant enough for my father and liturgical enough for my mother. This is probably a major reason I ended up in the Methodist Church myself; it just feels like home.

When I was 19 I was baptized, also in a United Methodist church. It was a private ceremony with my family and closest friends. If I had to do it over, I'd do it in a regular church service, but I was in college and easily embarrassed and I felt funny about being baptized as an adult in a church that normally baptizes babies. My brothers were also baptized in college or later, although neither of them goes to a Methodist church. (My parents don't anymore, either.)

When my kids were born, I remembered how special my baptism was, and I wanted to leave that option open to my children to choose (or not) when they were ready. Our pastor at the time was very flexible and was willing to do the parts of a baptism ceremony that didn't involve the actual baptism so that my husband and I could stand before the church and promise to raise our children in that Christian community, but without it being an actual baptism. (For what it's worth, my husband was raised Catholic and was baptized as a baby, but he didn't have a strong opinion either way and let me make the call.)

The reason I'm reminded of all of this is recently there was a baptism in our church during a Community Sunday service when the kids were in worship with us rather than in Sunday school, so my daughter C. (age 8 going on 30) asked about baptism. I explained to her what it was and that she and her brother and sister were not baptized as infants and why I chose not to do that. She thought about it a while and then told me she wants to be baptized. I spoke with our pastor about it and he's going to talk with her on Sunday, but barring anything really weird coming up, she will probably be baptized sometime this month or early next month.

Even though she's a few weeks short of 9 years old, I feel confident she knows what she's doing. She's a very deep thinker (asked me for the full theological significance of Christ's crucifixion when she was all of 4) so when she says she wants to make a promise to God, I believe her, and I'm really proud of her for thinking it through on her own and making the decision for herself.

I also want to say how proud I am of my other kids, my daughter A. in particular. One of the sticky parts of raising triplets is letting them be individuals with their own pace of growing. There's an expectation that they'll reach all the big milestones at the same time, so it occurred to me that baptizing one child and not the other two could be kind of tricky. If one kid wants something the others aren't ready for, we can't fall back on the excuse, "She's older, that's why!" and it is very difficult for them to not compare themselves to each other. C. tends to be naturally good in school, while A. is a more natural athlete. A. will berate herself if she can't read as well as C. even though they're both above grade level, while C. will get frustrated if her dribbling in basketball isn't as good as A.'s even though her persistence makes up for it. So my first fear was that as soon as C. announced she wanted to be baptized, A. would want to as well just to make sure she wasn't "behind."

While we were discussing this, however, A. looked me in the eye and said, "Mom, I don't want to be baptized," and I am so proud of her for taking it seriously enough to know she's not ready yet. When I told C. that her grandparents would be coming and maybe some of her other relatives, I made sure to reiterate to A. that I was proud of her for knowing her own mind and that when and if she wants to be baptized, we'll make just as big a deal out of it for her. (My son, who borders on autistic, tends to focus only on his interest-du-jour and has taken no interest one way or another in the whole subject, so I'm not worried about him feeling left out.)

I'm glad I didn't baptize them when they were infants. I'm enjoying watching C. process what her faith means to her as she makes this decision and I look forward to the other kids going through their own processes when they're ready. And I'm grateful that I go to a church that allows a lot of leeway for me to have a different take than church doctrine. "Bad" Methodist or not, I find myself really appreciating the UM church and its capacity to embrace differences in our individual journeys with Christ.


At 3:10 PM, Blogger gavin richardson said...

i tend to think of the baptism as welcoming a person into the body of Christ. it's not only an individual commitment but a spiritual community commitment, just look at the liturgy we use. but i too have respect for parents if they choose to baptize as babies or let the child choose. i do think it's important to keep the covenant found within the liturgy.

also a point our pastor does when he baptizes is walks up and down the aisle with the child or adult proclaiming "your brother/sister in Christ" sorta solidifying the covenant.

At 6:10 PM, Blogger Dr. Don said...

Very thoughtfully put. I was raised as a Catholic, so I was baptized as an infant, but then my family went Protestant. When I made my own commitment to Christ as a teenager, I opted to be baptized again as a sign of my own personal decision. Now, 30-some years later, I realize that even then I had no real idea what it meant to serve Christ, and I consider being baptized again. Not because it didn't take the first 2 times, but just because the relationship I have committed to has changed so radically as I have grown. Probably won't ever do it, but I think about it. Of course, I think about a lot of things.

At 7:50 PM, Blogger Bad Methodist said...

From Gavin:

also a point our pastor does when he baptizes is walks up and down the aisle with the child or adult proclaiming "your brother/sister in Christ" sorta solidifying the covenant.

Yeah, we do that, too. I imagine since C. can walk on her own, he won't carry her like he does the infants, though. ;)

She will enjoy that part. She LOVES being the center of attention. Don't know WHERE she gets it from... ::whistles innocently::

At 8:14 PM, Blogger Dancer On Ice said...

For me, even though I am basically lapsed, I can't imagine not doing infant baptism. Personal committment comes later, with first confession and Communion, and then Confirmation (none of which I did until I was 18, because my parents were very very very very very very lapsed) but even though they were lapsed, they had my brother and I baptized. If I had children, I'd do the same. (Of course, I would also be inclined to be married in a Catholic service, meaning my spouse would be obliged to raise them Catholic anyway.) But then I tend to be drawn to Catholocism preceisely because it's very orderly and doctrinal, without much deviation for individual taste. Other people's milage varies.

(Jen/TIE Pilot, btw, this is my Blogger name.)

At 12:50 AM, Anonymous Sabrina said...

I was baptized when I was just a few years older than Carly was, and it was great to be able to make the decision for myself. Our church has baby dedications where the child and parents are dedicated and the church vows to support them. Children then make the decision to be baptized or not.

At 9:12 PM, Anonymous Brad Hubert said...

I think infant baptism is fine, but if you want to follow it up with a personal committment, the Methodist church does offer confirmation.

I was baptized as an infant in the Methodist church, confirmed as an Episcopalian and am now raising my children in the Methodist tradition.

My 3-year-old son has already been baptized and we are scheduling a date for our 8-month old sometime in the next few months.

At 11:25 AM, Blogger JD said...

The one concern that I have about being baptized more than once is that you begin to deny God's saving grace. The outward "sign" that one who wants to be re-baptized is for their own purpose and others to see, but God already gets it. God knew what He was doing when those that originally baptized anyone did. There was also a sect in the early church that believed that you needed to be baptized again every time you sinned and needed forgiveness. That was quickly called heretical and the understanding of the denial of the saving grace of baptism was brought to the forefront. I do not agree, ever, where Christian denominations require the re-baptism of new members. In those cases, I believe that the churches are putting themselves above the saving grace of God. And regardless of what the church believes about the denomination that the new member is coming from, it is inappropriate to baptize that person again, especially when it is because of a disagreement of certain aspects of a recognized, non-heretical, Christian denomination.

I am not trying to browbeat anyone, and I truly believe in the Christian church as a whole. I have said that I would stand behind any Christian church that lives according to the scriptural truth that came before it, but I will also debate some of the fallacies Christian churches profess that contradict scripture and tradition of the original church fathers. This included criticizing my own church, the Methodists, and my former church, the Catholic Church.

I believe in "deal breakers" when it comes to faith and salvation. Some of the debates we have was Christians, especially those based on certain traditions, are rather silly, i.e., purgatory. Others are serious, i.e., the confession of faith and saved by grace.

Sorry about the rant, but this is a little pet peeve of mine, especially when the Baptist church that I went to in high school tried to tell me that, in my conversion, I really was not saved since I did not get baptized again.

Just a little something to chew on.

Oh, and as an afterthought. I believe in child baptism and the ultimate confirmation or profession of faith in front of the church as the crowning statement of an individual’s faith in Jesus Christ. This does not mean that I think it is wrong not to baptize your child, but I know what I would do since it is more of a tradition, so why argue about it. :)


At 12:30 PM, Anonymous Brian said...

I'm new to your blog and thought this was a very thoughtful post. My wife and I considered the same issues after our daughter was born. We eventually decided to have her baptised as an infant because, as gavin mentioned, we saw it as a spiritual community commitment. I really like the part of the liturgy where the congregation is asked if they will help raise the child - I think it helps seal children as part of the church family.

But I also understand the joy it must be to see your children make that choice for themselves. I'm hoping that confirmation works out that way - but it won't be for a while.

At 7:21 AM, Anonymous Leon said...


I live in a part of the southeastern US where the religious culture is so dominated by Baptist that even many Methodist have a “Baptist” view of baptism. I have found a way of explaining the difference, without criticizing either way, between the Methodist view of baptism and the Baptism view of baptism that may be of help in this discussion.

The typical Baptist view is that after a person makes a commitment to Christ the person is baptized in a wonderfully symbolic way showing that they have “died” to the old life and have been born anew. The focus is on the act of the person involved, the decision of the person, and the change in the life of that person.

On the other hand, the typical Methodist view is that baptism is an act of God. That God, through the church, marks the child for eternal life, and God takes the initiative, through the family and the church to begin the life long process of drawing the child to its eternal home. Later, when the infant is mature enough she will claim that promise—usually through confirmation.

The key difference is that one is a symbolic act focusing on the person and the other focuses on God’s action. I grew up Baptist, but have come to believe in the Methodist understanding of baptism. It particularly troubles me that our fickle human nature (I didn’t understand as an infant, but I did as a teenager, no—wait, I was in my 20’s, but not really until I was in my 40’s that I understood God well enough…) is the foundation for this sacrament.

In His name,

At 2:27 PM, Blogger Paula said...

Well, my religious background is so messy, I probably don't have much real understanding of the issue.

But I've never understood the point of baptism as commitment to God on the part of the individual. I, apparently wrongly thought that the baptism was more a commitment to the community by the parents, thus welcoming the child as part of God's creation. Commitment by the individual comes later.

My godsons have gone between Presbyterian and Methodist churches. They weren't baptised as babies but have, instead, made the commitment to join the community when they felt ready. Kyle did so at age 12. Ryan felt the call this year (at age 11).

I'm proud of C for thinking it through. And equally proud of A and D for realizing that it wasn't the time for them.

At 6:34 PM, Blogger Neil said...

Good post. Glad to read how you are handling it with your kids. We weren't Methodists when our girls were born, so they didn't get baptized until they were old enough to know what they were doing.

I wouldn't leave the church over it, but I think the rationale for infant baptism is realy weak. When I see people come in, baptize the kids then not return, it makes the whole thing look like part of a superstition.

At 2:30 PM, Blogger JD said...

Or then there is Original Sin...but that is another can of worms. :)

Believe in it or not, the concept is out there and is Biblical.


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At 9:49 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

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