Baptist

(UN)Resolved Baptism Rites

[Best of [D]mergent 2015]

By. J.C. Mitchell

This entry is part of the UncoSynchro blog, a writing collaborative effort from #Unco14 focusing on subversive themes of faith and life. The topic for January is (Un)Resolved.

Why did John baptize Jesus?  There are many answers, but the question is how did Mark, Q, Matthew, John, and Luke, handle John baptizing Jesus in the Jordon? They clearly marked it as the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, and thus the passing of the reigns from the one in the wilderness to the one that would take on our culture’s violence through death itself. 

Having grown up in the Roman Catholic tradition, I found baptism mysterious.  It was not the ritual or the idea that it may have washed sins away, but because we referred to this important rite that happened before we could establish memories.  This ritual of entrance into Christendom required no participation.  I had issue with this when I found myself exploring my faith in the protestant world, which led me to the Baptist mindset that we of the Christian Church (DOC) uphold. 

I do not believe any human being can do anything to deserve the grace, the forgiveness, and the love that is represented by the water, but I felt it must be much more meaningful if the ritual was engaged by the one being submerged.  I was once invited to Cokesbury to be part of the brainstorming team for their new Confirmation Curriculum.  I was already a DOC Minister, but I had been working as an Associate Minister in an UMC church so they simply assumed I was of their tradition. It became evident when I spoke of making Confirmation something special, like Baptism.  And this is really the only difference, or at least should be, when we baptize.  For we uphold one baptism as a reflection of God’s Grace, not human action what so ever.

So today I uphold our tradition in the denomination I am ordained, but I am not resolved that this is correct.  It is true that we are open to accepting baptism from other traditions and we believe it is God’s work, but what are we saying by doing it at an age of consent? I am aware from baptizing and confirming children that the understanding ranges, but I have felt it essential to commence with the ritual, even if I was not sure they understood.  However, I am not sure how to commence with a person that is not able to profess their faith, for we even call it “believer’s baptism.”  We Disciples understand the submergence is due to the individual’s profession of faith, even if we uphold it is God’s work, not ours.

This is a concern for me because of my son, and my work at the Church Open Gathering, for I know great people that will not able to profess their faith.  I know that many of you pastors and Christians will say there are obvious exceptions and my son and my friends should also be submerged in the Love of Christ.  But that is my point, that they should not be baptized as an accommodation, or worse with an exemption by the elders, for we understand that the work is done by the Divine, not by the pastor, the church, nor the individual under water. 

Unless we truly profess that Baptism is the work of God alone, we may not include everyone as equally baptized.  This may be why Jesus joined us without a profession of faith.  I find myself unresolved about the ritual, but I understand it should truly reflect the Grace for All.  

Growing Peace

By Rev. Mindi

I lived in the Boston area for ten years, attending seminary in Newton, just blocks from the Marathon route on Comm Ave (Commonwealth Avenue for non-Massachusetts peeps).  For the first six years I could walk to the same spot where Centre Street crosses Comm Ave and watch for the runners I knew. One year the youth of my church and I made posters for one of our members running the race, staying until we spotted her and could give her our high-five blessings of encouragement.  My last four years, I lived in Framingham, Massachusetts, closer to the start of the race, and I would drive to downtown Framingham early before the road was closed, park my car at the Assembly of God church and meet my friend, Pastor Bob, and we would set up our chairs along Rt. 135, near the Dunkin Donuts.  But it was in my first visit to Boston in 1999, when I was checking out seminaries, that I first saw the small tortoise and hare statues that grace the end of the Boston Marathon in Boston on Boylston Street.

I am still recovering from Newtown, so I don’t feel like the weight of what has happened in Boston has fully hit me yet. A colleague remarked to me after Newtown that many of us were “walking around with PTSD.” With social media, 24/7 news coverage, instant photos (whether real or fake)—the bombarding of information so quickly, the plethora of connections we now have (many of us know someone now, perhaps through friends or family, or maybe a Facebook friend of a friend, for example), we all feel like we know someone there, whether we do in our day-to-day life, or not—more of us are experiencing closeness to these events, to these people who have suffered loss.  In turn, we are suffering collective PTSD.

Of course, whenever something like this occurs, there are reminders that many others in the world live with this kind of terror on a more regular basis. Whether its suicide bombers in Palestine and Israel, drone strikes in Pakistan, IED’s in Afghanistan, or car bombings in other parts of the world that barely register a blip on U.S. news, if at all, there are probably many more people around the world who suffer from collective PTSD on a more regular basis. 

And just like after Newtown, some of the first articles of advice on dealing with violence are geared toward how to talk with children about the events. Good stuff. We need those resources and I’m glad they are there, just as I’m glad that the quote from Rev. Fred Rogers keeps resurfacing about looking “for the helpers.”  We all need those reminders, not just children.

But we need more. We need to do more than just talk to our children about this. We need to do more for all of us. 

I believe, as followers of the Prince of Peace, we have got to live out God’s ways of peace. There’s just no other way.

We need to work on eliminating the language of violence from our vocabulary. We need to work on practicing peace in our daily lives, with our family, friends and neighbors. We need to live into the ways of peace by being aware of where the products we buy come from, how they were harvested or mined, and what happened to the people who worked for those products.  All of the little things we can do.

And then we need to get beyond ourselves. We need to grow our churches into peace churches. We need to say that in the name of Christ, we will no longer live into the violent ways of our world. We will no longer allow violence to have power, to have the final word.

By becoming peace churches, we have the opportunity to transform our communities through education, service and outreach—all the same things we always try to do for our own church growth, but instead, now we are doing it for God’s Shalom.  We have the opportunity to partner with other peace and justice organizations. We are doing this because we want the world to be transformed. 

So I urge you to check out the peace resources offered by the Disciples Peace Fellowship or the Baptist Peace Fellowship of North America or other Christian Peace organizations, and work towards growing a peace church. Peace isn’t just something we teach to our children; we still have much to learn ourselves, and there is much for us to do in the work for peace, together.

Women Responding to the Call of God

 When Jennifer Harris Dault put out a call for Baptist women’s call stories, I was excited for the opportunity to share the story of God’s call on my life (from my perspective, of course).  I quickly wrote out my story, edited it a bit, and sent it to her.  Many months later, The Modern Magnificat: Women Responding to the Call of God was released.  I purchased the book for my mother for Christmas and waited for my copy to arrive in the mail, excited to see my name as a chapter in this collection.

However, when I sat down to read this canon of twenty-three stories of Baptist women called into ministry, I forgot about the details of my own story.  As I read, chapter by chapter, story by story, woman by woman, I heard my story in the voices of these women.  Women who had faithfully responded to that inkling, that nudge, that Divine Word, that altar call, that prayer to follow Jesus by going into ministry, and all of whom at one point or another faced incredible challenges to following that call.  More often than not, it was a male voice telling them, “No.”  Not the voice of God, not the Bible, but the voice of pastors, teachers, even husbands and fathers, saying “No” simply because she was a woman. 

Even though my call story is included in this collection, it isn’t complete by itself. As I read their stories, I recalled other moments when men said “No” simply because they were a man and I was a woman. I also now remember times when other women told me I needed to learn my place.  I remember friends and family who believed they were being loving by telling me I had no place in ministry whose words were crushing. 

But I also remember so much more now.  As I read these testimonies, I feel pride in remembering all the encouraging voices on the way—pastors, parents and grandparents, teachers, friends—all who saw the gifts of God in me and pulled me along the way.  I recall my own personal experiences with God when I heard, or felt, very clearly that God was indeed calling me to be a minister.

While this book is written by Baptist women and their experience, I believe there are many women in other traditions who have experienced similar discrimination, and I hope, similar places of encouragement along the way in their faith journey.  Baptists, of course, bear our own unique name and burdens, stereotypes and generalizations, and there are many former Baptist women serving in other traditions now, but I believe this book can be a work of encouragement for all women pursuing the call to ministry. 

As I read this book with my story in it, as a fifth-generation ordained American Baptist minister (and the first woman, with my mother following after me), I wonder about my grandmother and the other minister’s wives in my family and their daughters.  I wonder if they ever wondered if God was calling them into pastoral ministry but set it aside, believing that they were fulfilling that calling by being a pastor’s wife. I wonder how many women have been denied even the possibility of dreaming about being a minister. 

In more conservative and evangelical circles there is a continuing debate about Biblical equality and women in pastoral leadership roles.  In the progressive/liberal churches, we often assume that debate has been settled.  Yet I know my colleagues in other traditions, and I in my American Baptist tradition know our name has been rejected from church search committees because we are women. We know that churches still refuse to consider a woman, even if the batch of profiles they receive from their regional office are full of women’s names, even when we know that over 60% of seminary students today are women and that number continues to grow. 

The Modern Magnificat brings a challenge to the church universal: women will follow the call by God, despite the attempts of denominational bodies or local churches, despite the naysayers in the pulpit and on the parish committee.  Will the church be the one to change and accept that God calls all people, or will the church continue to hold on to false interpretations of Scripture used to justify power-holding and power-over others?  For there is no other purpose of denying women into ministry: besides the numerous Biblical examples from Deborah to Phoebe, besides the traditions of women partnering with men in ministry throughout church history, the need to hold power and authority over others is what perpetuates the denial of women into ministry—or indeed, any group considered a minority in power. 

While there are other great books out there on women in ministry, written from academic theological perspectives, read this book of women whose own stories, who own narratives share their experiences of denial and perseverance, of challenge and most importantly, hope. 

(You can read the introduction of Jennifer Harris Dault’s book here).