Posted by: smstrouse | May 3, 2014

Speak Up Progressives! What DO WE Say about Baptism?

baptism.confusionI hesitate to even mention her name because it gives her more attention than she deserves. But the statement by Sarah Palin linking waterboarding to baptism has caused outrage in many Christian circles. Faithful America, an online organization that encourages Christians to put faith into action for social justice, has responded by initiating a petition to send to the media denouncing her use of a Christian sacrament to advocate the use of torture. 

However, as I signed the petition and groused about the politics of certain individuals, I also realized that something was missing (and missing from a lot of ‘progressive’ or ‘Christian left’ communiqués): a clear declaration of what we believe, rather than just a refutation of what we do not believe. 

water_drop_ripple123This is not  a criticism of Faithful America or any of the other responders, not at all. It is a rallying cry for us to speak up about why we see the water of baptism as sacred, life-giving and love-affirming.

Maybe the challenge for progressive Christians is that we’re not sure how to do that. We’re clear about what what we don’t want to say: that baptism is something you have ‘done’ in order to get your ticket to heaven punched; that it’s a way of determining who’s in and who’s out, that it’s about original sin and the depravity of being human.

images-1Some have rejected it altogether as unnecessary and meaningless. But I’ve always been opposed to throwing out the baby with the bath water (OK, pun intended). Just as sacred symbols, such as the cross and church-y words, like salvation need to be reinterpreted and reclaimed, so does baptism. And we’re slowly beginning to produce liturgies, hymns and prayers that express a progressive way of believing.

I’ve had several baptisms in which there was an interfaith component to the family. With each I talked about the sacred meaning of water in their tradition and how the baptism of their child can be something meaningful for all of them. And in conversations with ‘spiritual but not religious’ folks, I’ve come to understand that their request for baptism for their children is not simply a way to placate grandma. They truly do crave an encounter with the Sacred.imagesWhen I’ve talked with them about original blessing and the baptized way of life, they are grateful. These have been some of the most profound discussions about baptism I’ve ever had.

So I say we take our sacrament back from people like Ms. P., who obviously doesn’t get it. She’s tried to pollute our water, which of course, she cannot do. We, however, have an opportunity for pouring out and expressing our joy, delight and gratitude. Or, as the old John Ylvisaker song calls it, “Walking Wet.”  






  1. The sacred water of baptism is the water of the mother’s womb. The Sacred Spirit is the protection of the father who offers his sacred seed, whether in flesh or in spirit.


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