When Newsweek’s religion editor Lisa Miller called about where Baptists stand on baptizing children raised in same-sex households, I finally had an opportunity to say that this is one issue where Baptists — all Baptists — get it right theologically. I said that in the Baptist tradition the focus is on the child being baptized, not on validating the child’s parents.
As one who can trace his Baptist roots back to before the formation of the Southern Baptist Convention, I know that no one dares speak for all Baptists and should never assume that all Baptists will agree on something. But this might just be a time when a significant majority is in agreement. Yes, Baptists might have common ground, albeit in the most unlikely of places.
Under the article title, “The Sins of the Fathers,” Miller wrote about the issue in the Catholic Church of baptizing children from same-sex couples.
“First comes love, then comes marriage. Then come all the thorny issues that arise with raising kids in a religious tradition when that religious tradition doesn’t see you as married,” wrote Miller.
The Catholic Church is unwavering in its opposition to gay marriage and opposed to the adoption of children by same-sex couples, a situation the Church believes would advance an immoral lifestyle.
Interpreting Catholic theology, Miller wrote: “What canon law actually says is this: any baby can be baptized if the parents agree, and if the infant has a reasonable hope of being raised in a Catholic home. The experts disagree, obviously, about whether two mommies or two daddies are able to do this.”
Hence the conundrum within the Catholic Church over baptizing children from the homes of same-sex couples.
That’s a theological problem Baptists don’t have. We don’t baptize infants — infants are dependent upon the decision and initiative of their parents related to baptism, making parents a focal point of baptism. Nor do we baptize very young children at the request of their parents.
Now, too many Baptist churches are drifting toward infant baptism when they accept professions of faith of little children who are still being potty trained and can’t distinguish between the historicity of Jesus and the mythology of Santa Claus. But I digress.
In the best of our tradition theologically, Baptists believe that baptism follows the profession of faith, a freely made decision of a discerning individual. The baptismal focal point is on the one who confesses their sin and professes faith in Christ. The focus is not on either their biological or adoptive parents, whether their parents are heterosexual or homosexual. After all, the parents are not being baptized and do not decide the child’s faith. It is the child who decides to follow Jesus and offers a public display of that decision through baptism. That’s why we call it believer’s baptism.
The church observes the event, affirms that believer’s decision and covenants to be with the believer on pilgrimage through life. Baptism offers no theological affirmation or condemnation of the child’s parents.
Baptist churches welcome professions of faith, regardless of the “sins of the fathers,” believing that the individual is accountable without judgment on the individual’s parents.
Of course, the baptism of children in same-sex households is not an issue in the very few “welcoming and affirming” Baptist churches.
Nor should it be a theological issue in Baptist churches that “welcome but do not affirm” and in the majority of churches that “neither welcome nor affirm.”
Granted practical problems are real and plentiful related to the baptism of children of same-sex couples. For example, some churches do face the problem of whether to list the same-sex couples in the church bulletin as the parents of the baptized child.
One need not agree on gay unions or same-sex couples adopting children to agree that the central focus of baptism for Baptists is on the child’s decision to follow Jesus.
Robert Parham is executive editor of EthicsDaily.com and executive director of its parent organization, the Baptist Center for Ethics.