Dwight Howard’s other dunking (baptism)

I came across this tweet a few days ago: Seminary doesn’t prepare you to baptize guys this big: http://bit.ly/cYsGNy

Lo and behold, Orlando Magic center Dwight Howard was baptized on Sunday, the Orlando Sentinel reported.

Orlando Magic center Dwight Howard can bring an arena full of fans to their feet with one of his powerful dunks.

But on Sunday afternoon, a crowd cheered wildly as the big man got himself dunked–into the chilly ocean waters off Bethune Beach just south of New Smyrna Beach. Howard was baptized, along with dozens of others, as part of a beachside service held by Orlando’s Summit Church.

One on hand, this isn’t surprising, considering Howard is very open about his Christian faith. We’ve talked here before about whether he could be a national ad star if he is a vocal Christian. On the other hand, it is a little surprising because presumably he has been a Christian for a while (having gone to a Christian high school), so why wasn’t he baptized before? Don’t get me wrong, though: Christians hold a wide array of opinions about when and how you should be baptized.

Howard, who is accustomed to double coverage, was flanked by two pastors–who had to back up with him into deeper water to accommodate his 6-11, 265-pound frame. After making a profession of faith in Jesus, Howard was dunked into the Atlantic Ocean. As he emerged from the water, about 500 onlookers on the beach cheered, clapped and snapped pictures with cell phones.

Howard returned to the small group of family and friends that had accompanied him and received congratulations from church members and well-wishers. Out of respect for the religious nature of the event, no one seemed to ask him for autographs or photos and generally respected his privacy.

So was the reporter there, or did someone dictate this to him over the phone? Was Howard willing to talk to a reporter about his baptism, since it’s an outward profession of faith? Howard also has another interesting back story. The Sentinel published a piece last February about the relationship with his father as an out-of-wedlock child and then his relationship with the mother of his own out-of-wedlock son.

Braylon’s birth in November of 2007 didn’t become public until two months later and Dwight II received criticism for fathering a child out of wedlock despite his devoutly Christian image.

“I have a beautiful son who’s very smart, very active nothing more I could ask for,” Dwight II said. “I’m proud of my son. The decision I made to me is over and done with. Just gotta move forward.”

The situation between him and Braylon’s mother, Royce Reed, plays out through legal documents which are public record. She alleges he doesn’t see his son. He alleges she denies him visitation rights and defames him.

“Whatever we go through, whatever may come out legally, I always want my son to know that I respected his mom,” Dwight said. “I try to do whatever can. I pray for her. I pray for her every day.”

There’s a faith connection there that might be helpful background. Back to the Sentinel‘s baptism coverage, the story quotes the church’s website on its beliefs about baptism, which is a nice way of including some of the church’s beliefs on the ritual.

Summit Church, which has three locations in Orlando, is an evangelical Christian congregation and has about 2,500 members, according to its website. The church practices full immersion as its rite of baptism, which according to its website, “is a crucial outward act of one’s inward confession of faith and acceptance of Christ as savior … It is symbolic of Christ’s death and resurrection, and also the washing away of our sins. Likewise, it is a sign to the community of the decision the believer has made.”

This could generate some follow-up questions for sports reporters. Why is he getting baptized after so many years of being a Christian? Was he baptized as an infant and this church suggested adult baptism? As a side note, he happens to attend the church where Joel Hunter‘s son is the pastor (there’s that random, political hook that reporters love).

It’s an interesting case to consider how of reporters should cover celebrity baptisms. A lot of ink has been spilled on the Miami Heat’s three musketeers for an anti-climactic beginning last night. Believe it or not, there are other interesting stories in Florida.

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  • Truth Unites… and Divides

    “Dwight II received criticism for fathering a child out of wedlock despite his devoutly Christian image.”

    Nobody’s perfect, but the criticism is justified.

  • Sarah Pulliam Bailey

    From a reporting standpoint, it adds to the story’s context, I think.

  • Julia

    Is this article driven by the irresistable temptation to use the “dunking” double meaning?

    Why else would a secular newspaper care about anybody getting baptized?

  • http://www.mormoninmichigan.blogspot.com John Pack Lambert

    He is a sports star, people care about everything he does and love to lap it up.

    Beyond that, a newspaper does not neccesarily “care” about what it reports. In Orlando and the rest of Central Florida there are lots of Christians who will care, and possibly people of other religions who will care. I know there are Jews, Muslims, Hindus and Buddhists in Central Flordia as well as other religiouns, I do not know how much they would care about this article.

    The point is that a newspaper that is a secular one will publish stories about baptisms that they think would intestest their readers. Being a major sports start would qualify.

  • Sarah Pulliam Bailey

    Julia, I would agree with John here. Dwight Howard is kind of a big deal in sports. However, I do think the writers can get annoyingly cutesy, especially with sports metaphors sometimes. That said, I caved with my headline.

  • http://orlandosentinel.com/religionworld Orlando reporter

    The reporter who wrote the story was at the event to witness a family member’s baptism, noticed Howard — possibly the most well-known figure in this area after Tiger Woods — and called the newsroom to ask whether anyone was interested.

  • Sarah Pulliam Bailey

    Thanks for the clarification.

  • http://www.thebigdaddyweave.com Big Daddy Weave

    I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that this was Howard’s second time receiving baptism by immersion. It’s not too terribly uncommon in the evangelical world for someone to be baptized as a child, say during elementary or middle school, and then get baptized again later in life as an adult.