A prominent politician last week stirred up much controversy by publicly declaring, “If I were in charge, they would know that waterboarding is how we baptize terrorists.”
I recognize that this statement was a metaphor—I get that. But, regardless of your political views and regardless of your thoughts about how to deal with terrorists, surely you would agree that forced baptism by means of torture is not exactly a Christian value. Is it?
But this comment has made me think about choosing baptism.
There was a time long ago when we Christians believed that the best way of dealing with our enemies, the most Christian way of dealing with The Other, was to make THEM like US.
- So we Crusaded to the Holy Land and forcibly baptized Muslims.
- So we rounded up Jews and baptized them against their will.
- So we forced the children of indigenous people to attend church boarding schools, where we baptized them as well.
These forced baptisms took care of all our problems: No more Jews. No more Muslims. No more indigenous peoples.
What our Christian forebears hadn’t yet learned was that we do not have the right to make God-choices for anyone but ourselves and for our young children simply because God doesn’t force anyone to choose him. A basic Christian ethic is autonomy, not just consent but informed consent, where the person is truly free to say “no.”
I was “on my way to Emmaus” this week when the “waterboarding is baptism” comment diverted my attention. This is because our first lesson today, our lesson from Acts, is about choosing baptism. So I heard the waterboarding comment as a cosmic hint that I should preach about these five things that our Acts lesson tells us about baptism:
First, baptism should be our first response to our recognition of the Holy Spirit at work in our lives. The 3,000 people who Peter baptized in today’s lesson were at the very first Pentecost, which occurred 50 days after Jesus’ Resurrection. We will celebrate Pentecost this year on June 8, when we will hear about:
- A sound from heaven like the rush of a violent wind
- A “tongue of fire” visibly resting on each of them
- An understanding of words spoken in other languages
- A crowd of onlookers who thought the disciples were drunk.
Well, here are all those same people in our lesson today. And here is Peter, giving his first sermon. Like all first sermons, Peter’s was long, so long that today’s lesson is only the second half of the sermon.
In the first half Peter had quoted the prophet Joel, who had told of God’s promise to pour out his Spirit on his people. Peter had explained to the crowd of onlookers what had just happened to the disciples: the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of God, had rested on each of them and was now with them in a new way.
This was an amazing thing: Peter, the dumpfkoff, suddenly got brilliant. HOW had this happened? Of course you will say that the Holy Spirit told him, and you would be right. But hadn’t the resurrected Jesus, on the road to Emmaus, explained all? And hadn’t Jesus, before he ascended into heaven, told them he would send the Holy Spirit to them? Peter and his crew were WAITING FOR, were expecting, the Holy Spirit to show up.
To return full circle to what our Acts lesson tells us about baptism, (and this is number two, if you are counting) Peter preached that baptism should be in the name of Jesus Christ. Not in the name of violence, or oppression, or anything else. If our baptism is by violence, violence is what we will serve. If our baptism is to serve Christ Jesus, then we must be baptized in Christ’s name.
Third, Peter named a connection between being baptized and receiving the Holy Spirit. We don’t know which comes first, though. Does the Holy Spirit lead to baptism, or baptism to the Holy Spirit? Being Anglicans, I am sure that you know that the answer to this “either/or” question is “YES!” Peter’s crew had ALREADY received the gift of the Holy Spirit without baptism, yet Peter is telling the people to be baptized and they would receive that same gift. If you are new to our faith and feel that you have the Holy Spirit, the appropriate response is to be baptized. And if you don’t already feel the Holy Spirit in your life, the appropriate response is to be baptized.
Right from the VERY FIRST (and this is number four), Peter taught that baptism is an act that forgives sins. Not all Christians believe this; those who see waterboarding as somehow related to baptism must not believe what Peter taught, that baptism is an act that forgives sins. If they did, they would have to release the terrorists after they baptized them, because they would have been forgiven. Christian baptism is the death to old ways and a re-birth to a new life in Christ Jesus.
Finally, Peter said that baptism is for children as well as adults. Baptism of children, who cannot yet decide for themselves, shows us that there is absolutely nothing that we can do to merit or earn baptism. God calls, God chooses, God promises, and God alone fulfills the promise. Those who baptize their children—as well as the entire community who participate—promise to support the newly baptized in their life in Christ.
I figure that right about now you might be thinking, “All of this is educational, Jo. But I’ve chosen baptism long ago for myself and for my childen, so how does this connect with MY life?” I have two answers: First, as Christians, don’t ever let anyone—regardless of your politics—use the word “baptism” in the same sentence as “waterboarding” or any other kind of torture. They just don’t go together. And finally, there is a connection between baptism and the Holy Spirit. And the Holy Spirit is actively at work here at Resurrection. How will we, AS A COMMUNITY, choose baptism? How will we, AS A COMMUNITY, die to our current life and live out our new life in Christ? No one will force you to participate or torture you into doing so. But you will have to choose. How will you respond to the Holy Spirit at work here?