Thursday, September 10, 2009

Infant Baptism: part 1

I was baptized at six, in the pool of a fellow church member one Sunday afternoon, after repeatedly begging my mother for the honor. The fundamentalist churches of my childhood didn't have infant baptisms ("sprinklings"); we had adult baptisms ("dunkings"). It was a decision to be made by the person being baptized ("dunked"), not their parents. Of course, six was really too young to make that choice either. I hadn't explored any other options and thought of baptism as just one of several life steps I was supposed to take at some point. Why wait till seven?

Then when I went to Vineyard as a teen, I perceived a rise in "baby dedication" ceremonies. Shiny new evangelical families could "dedicate" their baby. I don't know if this was supposed to cover some of the same "what if a kid dies before being saved?" issues infant baptism is supposed to address or not. It made me really uncomfortable. Here we were - a congregation of people who had chosen to follow Christ, who read and knew His words, and did not believe that infant baptisms were religiously correct. But it was clear to me on some level that baby dedications were infant baptisms, minus the water.

The same people who absolutely cannot comprehend arranged marriage, try to arrange their children's religion. Oh sure, pick your own wife - that's love! That's romance! That's part of Western culture! But picking your own god? Nah, your parents don't trust you enough for *that*. Or maybe they don't trust God enough to think he'll care for their baby if there hasn't been some obeisance made to him, publicly and ritually. Still, the Vineyard baby dedications didn't really bug me. They were ultimately sweet - with the parents beeming with pride on their little bundle, and Dave, the pastor I adored, essentially wishing good things for the child.

In my early twenties I went to the dedication of cousin's little girl. Neither he nor his wife had a church they belonged to. They got married while expecting their daughter. Yet when it came time to raise their daughter, they chose the church route that neither one followed and the faith that neither lived by. Tradition! The service was held at my cousin-in-law's aunt's church: a small, acoustic-cieling tiled office space near the air force base. The pastor was frenzied and the message disturbing. The music was some of the worst I'd ever heard, on an old baseball diamond organ. The whole atmosphere was creepy, weird, and musty. Of course the three-minute prayer for my cousin was after the sermon: Why on earth would the pastor waste a captive audience of unwilling far-flung relatives and varied religious persuasions? (Part 2 on baptizing my son tomorrow)