Baptism & Reproductive Justice. Really.

Today is the second anniversary of Owen’s baptism.  Last year on this day, over at TheReligiousLeft.org, I wrote:

On 10/10/10, he was the fifth child with whom my husband and I stood, alongside his parents, and made promises:  To care for him, to teach and instruct him, and to love him.  The first time we were present for another godson’s baptism, it was eighteen years ago, as the presiding minister prayed for “the spirit of wisdom and understanding” and “the spirit of joy in your presence.” [LBW, p.124].  Then, as now, the future was full of hope. …

Of course there is an ongoing theological debate about the permissibility of infant baptism.  Those advocating adult or “believers” baptism argue that it needs to be something that an individual chooses for herself or himself.  That this makes it more meaningful.  Those of us who affirm infant baptism as sacramental, on the other hand, contend that baptism is not something we do anyway.  It’s something God has done and is still doing;  that grace is not something that we choose or make fall upon one head or another.  Baptism is a recognition of gifts already given and promises for a life that is yet to unfold.

This is why I love the small scene in Marilynne Robinson’s 2004 book Gilead that begins “Once, we baptized a litter of cats.”  Eventually, the narrator asks his father what would happen to a cat if one were to baptize it.  His father responds by saying that one ought to respect the sacraments, and the narrator concludes “We did respect the Sacraments, but we thought the whole world of those cats.” [p.24-25]

Respect for the sacrament combines here with a deeper understanding that there is something of worth in those cats deserving recognition.  Each of the children in our lives, related to us by blood or promise or proximity, has a life that has yet to fully unfold, deserving recognition.  Parents and godparents and friends and community members wrestle with how to best influence that life every day.  How can we help make their life and their world more just and more joyful.

When I wrote this a year ago, it was framed with a recent visit to our town by the hateful Westboro Baptist Church, and Elizabeth Warren’s comments on our social fabric and infrastructure, and how part of the social contract is paying it forward.  These things are still true and still important.

This year, my thoughts about kids and baptism and the future is framed by an election and a focus on reproductive justice.  Over the past year I’ve been engaged in work to remind people that women and children and families are much more likely to thrive when a woman is able to plan her pregnancies.  When a woman is trusted to make decisions about what is best for her family with her partner and her chosen medical and spiritual advisors.  When a government ensures that all women, no matter their economic resources, have access to basic health care because prenatal care is a strong predictor of maternal and infant health.

This is why, for example, the World Health Organization states:

Reproductive health, therefore, implies that people are able to have a responsible, satisfying and safe sex life and that they have the capability to reproduce and the freedom to decide if, when and how often to do so.

Implicit in this are the right of men and women to be informed of and to have access to safe, effective, affordable and acceptable methods of fertility regulation of their choice, and the right of access to appropriate health care services that will enable women to go safely through pregnancy and childbirth and provide couples with the best chance of having a healthy infant.

What better way to help make childrens’ lives more just and more joyful than to create an environment in which they are welcomed, supported, loved, and chosen.  This is something that we can do, and it is something we must do.

Read this piece over at The Christian Science Monitor where Linda Feldman details Obama’s and Romney’s differences on these issues.

 

About Caryn Riswold

Caryn D. Riswold is a feminist theologian in the Lutheran tradition. She is Professor of Religion and also teaches Gender and Women’s Studies at Illinois College in Jacksonville, Illinois, where she has worked for over a decade teaching undergraduates to think critically and creatively about religion. She earned her Ph.D. and Th.M. from the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago, holds a master’s degree from the Claremont School of Theology, and received her B.A. from Augustana College in her childhood hometown of Sioux Falls, South Dakota.


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