Baptism Is Thicker Than Water

At what point should The United Methodist Church admit its failures and simply split over the issues of human sexuality raised by LGBTQI people and those in the church unwilling or unable to accept them?  For me, the answer is simple — at the point that we admit that we do not believe God has the power to unite, reconcile and heal.  To stay together is an act of faith.  To separate is to reject God, renounce Jesus, and revoke our baptism.  Those calling for separation are choosing personal desire over the will of God.

Sadly, so much of this is based in ignorance rather than willful disobedience.  Our divisions are grounded on poor biblical interpretation, flawed historical and theological understanding, and a pure lack of comprehension of our sacraments.  The Bible offers a cultural community/purity code that has absolutely nothing to do with the post-enlightenment morality codes of Western civilization.  What we want the Bible to say about homosexuality it simply doesn’t say.  Sure, it is named as “a sin”, but not as some would like to define it today.  In context, it was a disobedience to God and a violation of community because it did not fulfill the mandate to “be fruitful and multiply.”  Those who wish to make it about the sanctity of marriage must be careful, because it cannot be separated from issues of divorce, bloodline, polygamy and a much broader (less-sex-based) definition of adultery.  Using the disagreement about who may love whom in what ways to call for a division of God’s church and Christ’s body is more than just a lack of faith; it is a renunciation.

Quick show of hands: who here has been baptized?  What does this baptism — especially that of infant baptism — actually mean?  At the most basic, fundamental, mythic/magic/symbolic/ritualistic level, it defines who is in and who is out.  Each of us, then, has the privilege and responsibility to decide to “stay inside,” or not.  There is also a right and privilege of THE COMMUNITY to include or ostracize those who threaten the safety and security of the common good, but this “power” should be exercised with the utmost discretion and caution.  Rejecting one whom God loves is perhaps the worst transgression we as the church can commit.  The UMC does not “rebaptize” because baptism is not something we do for God, but is an acknowledgement of what God has done for us, and continues to do in and through us.  There are no “take-backsies” with baptism.

Which means, quite figuratively and literally, we are stuck with each other, whether we like it or not.  Baptism is thicker than water.  We are brothers and sisters in Christ, regardless of our behaviors and/or beliefs.  Just as family has to figure out how to live together in the midst of all its differences, the church must do likewise.  Self-righteously separating ourselves from those who disappoint us by their defective apprehension of “truth” doesn’t solve a thing — we are still guilty by association.  I can reject my siblings, but that doesn’t make us any less related.  And hiding from an inability to relate is not a solution, but an abdication of responsibility and plain evidence of a lack of maturity.

So we really only have one option as Christians — figure out how to live together through our disagreements and provide a witness to the world that through God’s power we commit to a better way to disagree than to resort to worldly “solutions” of violence, exile, hate, invective, insult, and separation.  Instead of focusing our attention and energy on what we disagree about, the body of Christ needs to start in a different place: at the fundamental unity of our baptism, and the essential covenantal commitment to engage at the level of our common agreements and sacramental identity.

11 replies

  1. I am earnestly trying to follow the reasoning here. You say to split would be to “revoke our baptism” but then go on to suggest that our baptism is irrevocable: “no ‘take-backsies’ with baptism.” So I am not clear what you mean when you say we would be revoking our baptism?

    • If baptism is an acknowledgement of what God does in, with and through us, we cannot “unbaptized” ourselves, though we can deny that baptism has meaning of effect. If baptism is merely a human ritual we do “for God,” then we can do pretty much anything we want with it. Our current dilemma is that one perspective is denying the validity of the baptism of others. I believe this is both risky and indicates a fundamental misunderstanding of what baptism is and does. If baptism required fire instead of water, if we were burned rather than soaked, it would make little sense to say we were never burned. The scar tissue would say otherwise. Baptized is baptized. I am trying to say that we stand in a position where some are saying “our baptism is real and valid, but the baptism of others is false and invalid. If we are part of the baptized church, the idea of separation is a core statement of faith — WE decide, not God. Revoke, in my parlance, means to say we “take back the call” on our lives and this is central to any call to make amputations to the Body of Christ.

  2. I like your article Dan, however, the rub, as always – is how this is practically lived out. I am no proponent for splitting the United Methodist Church, but have also decided that if General Conference does not change our stance on LGBTQ issues, I will no longer abide by the official church stance and will actively work against it/ignore it in my ministry as an Elder in the United Methodist Church as long as I am allowed to stay one. The question then becomes, in my mind, will the church value unity with dissenting voices – or will it equate sameness with unity. While I pray for movement at this year’s General Conference, I am not overly optimistic. I believe we have lost all creativity and ability to see a third way and have become a victim of the tyranny of the majority – and therefore need to seek an inclusive unity through active resistance and disobedience.

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