A few weeks ago my wife informed me that our youngest son was going to be baptized. She told me that she wanted me to be there to support him during this important event in his life. I had very mixed feelings about this, but I decided to do the “good for the family” thing and go without any argument on my part.
The backstory is that a few weeks ago, she asked if I wanted to go to graduation party for one of the kids in the church and I told her I didn’t care to. She got moody for a few days, and when she asked me again, I gave her the same answer. She then went off on me a little about me not wanting to spend time with her and the kids. Which is not true: I actually do, just not around church folks, since I’m still trying to figure out what I’m doing… And all that. So I finally told her that I didn’t realize it was that important to her, and conceded. It actually wasn’t that bad. They are a very gracious family and didn’t bring up anything about me not being in church for a while.
So this time, when she asked, I said yes almost immediately.
So this Wednesday night I got to the service in the middle of the announcements, so I actually had to look around for a seat. I noticed some of my wife’s baptist family sitting near the front. They came just for the occasion, so I decided to go sit in an empty seat near them. None of them know yet that I’ve rejected their religion, so I was hoping none of the regulars would do that awkward “We haven’t seen you in soooo long” spiel that I was almost expecting and blow my cover, so to speak.
A bit after I sat down, one of the men in the church came over and shook my hand. He had the strangest grin on his face as he said, “It is sooo good to see you.”
So then they baptized about 15 people, my son among them. As I was sitting there, my chest got tight and I had a bit of difficulty breathing when he got into the water. I still don’t know exactly how to explain what I was feeling. As I write this, I am re-experiencing that exact same feeling. It’s a bit of sadness combined with disappointment in myself for not being able to really explain my side of things, partially because of his age and partially because I don’t want to mess things up, as far as my relationship with my family. There’s also some lack of sureness. There’s a bit of doubt about whether I’ve made the right decision about my faith (although that goes away pretty quickly when I look at the evidence) but more about the future of my family. I do not want to lose them. I don’t want my family to fail. And that’s constantly on my mind. I know if it fails for “difference of view” reasons, that would be my fault for realizing what a sham Christianity is, but I cannot continue to live by a faith that isn’t true. So I’ll keep doing everything I can to keep the peace and make this strange new version of my family work.
Anyway, when they started baptizing these kids and teenagers, the rest of the youth group would run up to the front and hold up signs they had made for each of those being baptized. They had personalized each sign with a pithy saying or rhyme for each person. All of this was accompanied by cheers and clapping. It was very irreverent to the baptists in the family, but that’s just run of the mill for this church. I guess they’re keeping it “relevant” for the youth.
All the while this was happening, I was thinking about the power of indoctrination. Everyone was so into what was going on: buying every word he said. The pastor made sure to tell everyone that once they were baptized their lives would be changed. “You’ll be a new person” he said. Ironically (or maybe not), the next day my son continued to act exactly as he did prior to being baptized. No change at all. I remember when my older son was baptized, I had the exact same observation about how rude he could be to his brother. Only this time, I understand why there was no change: it’s just water, not Jesus magic.
After the last baptism, they asked everyone to stand, so I slipped out the back. As I was walking into the foyer, one of the assistant pastors nearly ran my down. She also had that weird grin. “I just wanted to let you know how happy I am that you came tonight.”
As I was walking through the foyer, the other assistant pastor said something about how wonderful it was for my son to be baptized. I just kind of nodded and said “Mmhmmm” or something. It was all so surreal.
Anyway, that’s what happened. My son got baptized. I’m still processing the experience.