Drowning in the Baptismal Waters

Drowning in the Baptismal Waters January 13, 2020

Editors Note:  Its been a while since we did a post on Baptism, possibly since 2014 when Mason Lane wrote a hilarious piece about his fundamentalist upbringing, which necessitated a full dunking for soul cleansing to take effect. I was just rereading it, when the current post popped up in my in-basket. This  post is not hilarious, but it does describe more typical, fearful motivations to be baptized. It has a happy ending, though, which might make you eager to take a dip! /Linda LaScola, Editor

=======================

By David Mercer

She was eleven years old.

She had been at an evangelical church camp–a week full of morning Bible studies and evening assemblies with emotionally charged music, stories, and sermons. On the final night, the guest preacher spoke of their need to be forgiven of their sins to be saved from eternal hell and to beg for the gift of heaven.

The girl walked up the aisle and said she wanted to be baptized.  The people applauded and shouted “Amen!” Her tears flowed freely and the preacher explained it was because the Holy Spirit had gotten hold of her.

I was one of the spiritual guides at that camp and I was assigned to “counsel” her on the spot. While she sat in the pew, sobbing, I knelt in front of her so I could see her face.

“Have you been baptized before?” I asked.

“Yes, but I need to do it again,” she said.

“You don’t really have to,” I said. “You’re already saved.”

“Yes, I do,” she insisted. “Because I’ve been so bad since then!”

“Why don’t you wait till you go home and you can talk about it with your parents?” I suggested.

“No! I have to do it now!”

I was afraid she was about to reach a new level of hysteria.  I said,

“Okay, but first let’s call your parents on the phone. They’ll want to know.”

She nodded.

As I led her from the crowd, she said in a broken voice:

“I’m so happy….”

After talking to her parents, she decided to wait until she got home where she could be baptized in her own church. I was relieved that we slowed things down so she could rest and be with her family first.

“I’ve been so bad,” she said.

At eleven years of age, what could she have done that was so bad? Did she sass her parents? Had she snuck out at night to be with her friends? Had she gone “all the way”?

Did these things make her evil? Did she deserve to burn in hell forever? That’s what we taught her.  In fact, there were many lesser things, including “bad thoughts,” that would send her to hell.  Her only escape was to have special words said over her and then dunked (again) underwater.

It was a long time ago and I’ve had darker questions since then.

What if she had been molested?  What if someone had told her it was her fault? It has taken me a long time to see that our religion could be a tool to prey on the vulnerable.  The baptismal waters come closer to drowning them rather than cleansing them.

I’m ashamed that I was part of a system that says people are evil and deserve to burn eternally.

At the time, I thought of myself as a reformer who was changing the church from the inside in Jesus’ name. I did my best to shield people like this girl from abuse but I was merely helping adjust things enough to allow an unhealthy institution to continue functioning.

I wish I had never been a part of it. Yet I also wish I had helped her more while I was there.

“Honey,” I could have said, “I don’t care what you’ve done, there’s nothing evil about you. You are a wonderful person. You don’t need to be saved. If there is a god, I’m sure he likes you fine.”

In fact, I wish I had stood up and told all the kids the same thing and then said,

“You’re all marvelous, just as you are, and you don’t have to listen to this crap.  In fact, we can all stand up, march out of this place, go home, and be happy.

“C’mon. I’ll go first.”

======================

Bio: David Mercer, aka “Stan Bennett,” was the “Stan” who was featured in the CNN documentaryAtheists: Inside the World of Non-believers  and the Canadian documentary, Losing Our Religion.  David was a pastor for thirty-five years in Texas and Oklahoma until he quit and moved to Orlando, Florida, where he met and married his wife, Sylvia.  David is now fully out of the closet as an agnostic.  He is a life coach, a teacher, and a storyteller. He is the author of the blog Deep Calls,where this post originally appeared  You can also find him on his Author Page on Facebook.

>>>Photo Credits:  By Viktor M. Vasnetsov – http://www.picture.art-catalog.ru/picture.php?id_picture=3335, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=215906

 


Browse Our Archives

Follow Us!


TRENDING AT PATHEOS Nonreligious
What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • Aloha 2

    To the author, I wouldn’t feel so worried that maybe the girl was molested.

    After a whole week at camp, with indoctrination, lack of sleep, endless praise choruses, and social pressure … the girl might just have been overwhelmed. That would be another cause of her tears and her desperate confession.

    And you did the right thing to let her off the hook of an immediate baptism. I’m just surprised that the church leadership let you get away with it. The churches where I’ve attended were always urgently wanting more baptisms for the yearly stats. To make it look like a successful church with a successful ministry.

  • Tawreos

    I grew up with a girl that seemed to have this same type of experience 6 years in a row at summer camp. Some kids learn early that the big sinner is the one that gets the attention in the church.

  • Linda LaScola

    Interesting — in the Catholic church, it’s the one who is most pious who gets the attention — e.g., goes to mass every day, praying the rosary that they carry conspicuously.

  • Tawreos

    I confess I am ignorant of the full catholic service, but an altar call changes the deal. The whole church will focus on who went forward, not who was always in the pew.

  • I’m reminded of a recent study which demonstrated that the majority of holy water in baptismal fonts is contaminated by dangerously high levels of fecal coliform bacteria. And the same is true for many popular outdoor full immersion sites like the Jordan River.

    Yuck.

  • Im skeptical. Who did this study and which baptistries did they examine?

  • You can google it. It’s not really surprising, though. Babies are pretty germ ridden critters, and you pour water across them and back into the basin. Apparently it’s common for fonts to just be topped off, not drained, cleaned, and refilled. Nor is it surprising to find that many rivers used for baptisms, which are usually near population centers, have high bacterial counts these days.

  • Linda LaScola

    I went to a fundy service with a friend and was embarrassed by the altar call. Everyone there knew I was not “saved” and I felt they were just waiting for me to go up.

  • Tawreos

    You’re probably why they had it in the first place. =)

  • Bob Jase

    Baptism – because making amends, if it would help, is too much work.

  • flexilis

    My own full immersion baptism took place in a local lake. No one worried about contamination since this was also the spot for swimming, water skiing, and fishing. I’m sure no fishermen ever relieved themselves over the side of the boat. /s

    Later the church built a new building that included a deep tank behind the altar for dunkings. I attended a few baptisms there. I would prefer the open air and the blue sky. I think the “spiritual” results are probably the same either way, namely non-existent.

    Many years later I saw an enormous snapping turtle in that lake. Glad it wasn’t around while they were soaking me.

  • Linda LaScola

    Must admit that I wondered about that. So they don’t have an altar call at every service? Like going to communion for Catholics?

  • Tawreos

    Some churches may, but the church I attended would have one 3 or 4 times a year. Sometimes there were ones on ordinary Sunday’s that always seemed to coincide with a prominent member of the church having a guest at the service.

  • rationalobservations?

    There are so many confirmations of the assertion that “religion poisons everything”.
    Christianity may have been the most toxic and deadly influence of all?
    Christianity was cobbled together from mostly pagan components and exclusively pagan feast days and festivals in the 4th century before being brutally and murderously imposed upon the 95% of the population who rejected all the various messianic cults among which little historical trace of a “Jesus” cult has ever been discovered.

    The third largest and fastest growing human demographic are the godless non-religious today and free, peaceful secular democracy appears to be increasingly successful as the antidote to that poison.