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Sunday (Afternoon) Sermonette: "They Stamp Them When They're Small!" - Blather. Rants. Repeat.
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Sunday (Afternoon) Sermonette: "They Stamp Them When They're Small!"

Once in a while, my favorite friendly atheist bill_sheehan does a Sunday post that strikes me down on the Road to Ennui and makes me want to expound thereon.  Today's is Brother William's secondish in a seriesish about the importance, to various Holy Mother Churches, of beginning the indoctrination early.  His previous one was inspired by his

former Vicar’s posting a link to a Christian essay on the importance of dragging your children to church every Sunday. Some folks criticized my apparent belief that religion is passed on by mere early training.

I'll leave you, and he, to work out the sacred math on that one generally, but it did get me thinking about the doctrinal aspect of this longtime trend, at least among those of us who enter houses of worship with large symbols of public execution visible from the front.  We've taken what was a fairly minor Leviticus purification ritual, and then glommed on to one short passage about it (one appearing in only three of the gospels and without a word from JC himself in the oldest version), and turned it into one of the only two church rituals considered by Protestants to be a sacrament.

Baptism is an outward and visible sign of the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ. I know that sentence by heart from having heard it hundreds of times in United Methodist christenings in three different places over 50-odd years. Not only is it separated in non-Catholic doctrine from such other rituals as marriage, penance and ordination- it is the only sacrament which all mainline denominations consider to be unrepeatable.  One dip per customer please, no seconds.  (There are exceptions, thereby proving this rule. Mormon baptisms are generally non-reciprocal, and some of the Fundier Baptists refuse to acknowledge anything not done with a wet adult subjected to full immersion, but those are essentially objections to the form of the ceremony rather than denying the inherent voodoo in a properly-conducted one.)

And then there's that "adult" versus "infant" thing. For most of the church attaches such significance to the act of dedication and repentance by a candidate who will not remember a minute of the event and, in most cases, spends the entire ceremony in some combination of sleeping, crying or pooping on the minister's stole.  To get around this illogic, Christian theologians import another scriptural event, having nothing to do with anyone's baptism, and remind us of the Lord Jesus, how he said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these."

Again, the kid has no idea what that means- if anything, if he's a he, he's thinking well, shit, at least this is better than a bris- but the parents and godparents/sponsors/other members of the congregation are more than just spectators. For they are about to be front and center on the demanded indoctrination.  The mumbo-jumbo varies from year to year and brand to brand, but these are the parental vows in the Last Not Yet United Methodist Hymnal that were still in effect and used for Emily's baptism in 1992:

*Do you accept as your duty and privilege to live before this child a life that becomes the Gospel; to exercise all godly care that she be brought up in the Christian faith, that she be taught the Holy Scriptures, and that she learns to give reverent attendance upon the private and public worship of God?

* Will you endeavor to keep this child under the ministry and guidance of the Church until she by the power of God shall accept for herself the gift of salvation and be confirmed as a full and responsible member of Christ’s Holy Church?


I have never heard one of these questions answered "no" in the speaking, but close to half of those speakers, I never see again. They've got their biddy-knitted blankie, and their sacramental candle, and their copy of the home game, and they made Poppa and Meemaw happy for a few minutes, even knowing that their once-baptized child is never to return.  Among the remainder, it's few who take those promises seriously.  When our minister suggests that the family use the altar candle as part of an annual celebration of their child's baptism day, I have to suppress giggles.  I couldn't tell you the anniversary of mine, or Emily's, or anyone's without peeking.

Yet my parents (especially my mother) took that shiz way more seriously back in the day. I was the smart kid in Sunday School who knew the Bible verses better than the teachers did. I did the cherub choir and the Ute Grupe and all the things; and in my case, I did make my own decision to be confirmed and then to remain, in varying quantities to this day, a full and responsible member.

One problem- from when I was a youngun, to when Emily was, to even now- is that the indoctrination methods haven't changed in that half-century and probably not from the centuries before. It's all bible verses and busywork- FIND ZACCHEUS IN THE TREE, COLOR THAT MEAN OL' PHARISEE.  Meanwhile, most of these kids are the boys beating up the nerds, or are the mean girls shunning the slightly less thin-and-beautiful ones during the rest of the week at school- and at least some of them are doing it literally under the Sunday School teacher's nose.  Nobody's listening to what the kids' questions are- and if they are, and they're asking the ones that seem the most relevant, like, Is this all relevant?, or even, shudder, So there really is a Magic Sky God up there who likes fathers sacrificing their firstborn sons to make a point?, they're likely to be sent to the superintendent's office- and in many less liberal denominations, probably beaten or caned.

I'm cool with my vows when it comes to Emily. She learned enough, in enough ways.  She did her Sunday School busybooks and chose confirmation, but we also taught her plenty of things about other religions and the seamy side of our own (she watched Dogma with us long before she was confirmed).  She is as full and responsible a Christian as I am, even without a building particularly associated with either of us at this moment.

One last Sacramental Thing: that One Per Customer rule on baptisms has an unfortunate side effect for the T's in the LGBT world, none of whose letters are getting full acceptance from at least my denomination at the moment.  But one of the outward and visible signs of a Trans-cencion is the rededication of that person using the gender, and the new name, they've chosen to go forward with.  And at least one UK church- surprise, surprise, Unitarian- is going the extra mile for those members with that need:

A Manchester pastor is offering a special service for transgender Christians – allowing them to get baptised again after changing their gender.

The New Chapel (Unitarian and Free Christian) in Greater Manchester passed proposals at its general meeting that will allow the new ceremonies to go ahead.

They will allow trans people to be baptised in their new identity after transitioning, after Pastor Jean Clements met a family who were dismayed there was no such procedure for their transgender daughter.

She told the BBC: “I felt saddened by the fact that this family were being shunned by many mainstream churches.

“However, when the family came to New Chapel, the congregation welcomed them with open arms.”

The pastor said the service would be “very similar” to a standard adult baptism, adding that her church serves a “multi-generational community who are very willing to accept change and progress”.

However, Pastor Clements said the move will not yet be rolled out across all Unitarian Chapels – it will be for Churches “to decide for themselves whether they wish to offer similar services”.

They will also have very good music and awesome coffee. Which is more than I can say about gluten-free loaves of Jesus when we tried THAT a couple of months ago:P

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Comments
cafemusique From: cafemusique Date: February 7th, 2016 10:36 pm (UTC) (Link)
There are a number of traditions which have marked in various ways such a change. When I came out, another church-y T passed along to me a liturgy that I believe came from the UCC for recognizing a name change.

In my case I was briefly attending a friendly "independent catholic" church and our priest there provided a liturgy for me.

Also, the next time our bishop visits our church (on Easter Eve) I will be one of those making a reaffirmation of my baptismal vows with laying on of hands by the bishop, in my case as a way of "renewing" those baptismal vows, which I previously accepted for myself at confirmation (which, like baptism, my tradition understands to be non-repeatable), but this time under my chosen name. There won't be anything specific to my transition in the liturgy, but this time it will be around people who knew me under one name and set of pronouns and who now know me under another.
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