Friday, November 8, 2013

Wet Dreams

In the top of the news recently was the “baptism” of Prince George, the heir to the British throne, followed by the announcement that he is now a member of the Anglican Church, which he will head one day as King of England. Even some of the more sensible publications got caught up in the hoopla. He wore a reproduction of the christening gown worn by every Royal baby since 1841 and was flanked by seven godparents. There is no arguing that he was cute as a button. Unfortunately, all they had was a wet, overindulged, cross-dressing baby.

Just a week prior, people were outraged at a report that a prominent pastor refused to “bless” a baby because it was born out of wedlock. The mother claimed Marvin Winans would not allow her to participate in a public presentation dedicating babies at his church. What’s the loss? Her friends and family would not witness the spectacle and join her for brunch afterwards. Just raise your children in the fear and admonition of the Lord without forgetting to model such before them. Does she work equally as hard to ensure the biological father lives up to his responsibilities?

Both cases were equally absurd because neither event is of any consequence when it comes to the faith of the children. It was not this way in the beginning. Our Lord and Savior was not baptized until adulthood. Of course, Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these” (Matthew 19:14). On the flip side, some churches will not baptize children who request it if their parents are not members of said church. It happened to me.

This issue was one of the things standing between me and another piece of paper on my wall earlier this year. While being examined as a candidate for ordination in the United Methodist Church, I freely admitted that I do not believe in infant baptism. There is no biblical support for it and the practice is actually counter to the fundamental assent of the will to the grace of God for partaking in the sacraments. John Wesley (founder of Methodism) himself said that every believer must have a datable conversion experience (which baptism follows).

Well, that was the wrong answer. It wasn’t so much that the United Methodist Church is a bastion of theological purity. I’ve heard all manner of heresy from ordained clergy among its rank without institutional consequence. One of the most attractive attributes of the denomination for me was its supposed regard for intellectual freedom.

This encounter was more so about a matter of refusal to conform to their will or try to impress them. I recall classmates rehearsing their lines for ordination committees and boards while in seminary.  It was shameless. Some folks would say whatever was necessary to get what they wanted just like a man with an erection. Both parties would be aware what it was, but played along as they each had an agenda to advance.

The chair of the Committee lashed at me verbally.  “How dare you come in here and disagree with the discipline of our church.” I responded “how dare you invite me knowing in advance where I stood?” She gave me that knowing look that I could lie my way into the next phase of the process like others have done before me. However, I fear God and dread looking at myself in the mirror knowing I had. Integrity is clearly not one of their preferred character traits.

Babies were baptized on the day of their birth in colonial America to swell the rolls of the church. Thomas Jefferson refused to endorse attempts to require infant baptism under law. As one of the drafters of the U.S. Constitution, he was the brainpower behind the clause forbidding the establishment of religion. He is one of my political heroes because he left it personal choice to exercise faith. If God did not want humanity to exercise choice, we would not have been endowed with a will.

It is no secret that mainline protestant churches are in decline. Have those who swell their church rolls by forcing membership upon those born into their constituent families considered that may be part of the problem?  Socialization into faith is no substitute for real discipleship. John Calvin argued centuries ago that one cannot impute their faith to another.

One of the most perverse cases came when a seminary classmate who is now a pastor had a couple in his church experience the misfortune of a still-born child. He announced that he had to rush to the hospital not to counsel the grief-stricken mother and father, but rather to baptize the baby.

This did raise age-old theological questions tackled by theologian Jonathan Edwards.  “One of these two things are certainly true, and self-evidently so: either that it is most just, exceeding just, that God should take the soul of a new-born infant and cast it into eternal torments, or else that those infants that are saved are not saved by the death of Christ.”

I discussed this with another pastor friend who admitted the absurdity of the response, but said “we must do this to make the family feel better.” I replied “What?!! Did Jesus give us this holy sacrament for emotional relief or as an outward sign of an inward change?” He had no answer because he knew on which side his bread was buttered and he had an elaborate shindig planned for his own infant daughter.

Why does the church insist on so much pomp and pageantry around something so insignificant and virtually ignore more meaningful milestones? Yes, the baby is cute. I’m glad you’re going to provide religious training. It was good seeing everybody who does not normally come in church. Brunch was delectable. However, that baby is only a Christian in your dreams.