Some Quick Notes on Some of Baptism’s Ethical Edges

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–Birmingham Civil Rights Institute Photo

We do not vaguely follow Christ, or imitate him generally. Our discipleship has a distinctive shape, individually and collectively—a “baptismal” shape. Baptism packs an ethical punch that stamps the spirituality of the church with distinctive markers. Among them:

  • Baptism is a radical equalizer (Galatians 3:27-28, 4:6)—There is now no Jew or Greek, male or female… All who are baptized are one in Christ, all have the same “father,” all are equal heirs, all are a royal priesthood, a people set apart; all have complementary precious gifts (charisms, graces) that are all necessary for the building up of the Body of Christ. The baptismal answer to all questions of distinction, discrimination, and subordination is ‘no.’ The Church that practices a baptismal spirituality is truly alive in diversity of every kind and in profound mutual regard. And the Christian who is living out his or her baptism every day is a person who rejects the normativity of one group over another.
  • If baptism is “an immersion in Christ’s death,” which death was an act of barrier-breaking, as Paul says, baptism is also therefore an act of radical reconciliation, bringing together those who were once far off and those who were already “in.” The gospel tells us that Jesus died “outside the walls.” That is where baptismal life must unfold, beyond all the walls and barriers erected to keep some of us safe, tidy, clean, and apart from others. The Church that practices a baptismal spirituality will be a church always working to break down whatever walls continue to separate us from the most dreaded “them.”
  • The equality of the baptized (or priesthood of all believers) is subversive of all clericalism and hierarchy. There may still be offices and roles for the sake of the Church’s unity and order, but the Church that practices a baptismal spirituality will show forth in every way the essential equality of all the baptized, and each one will take on his or her priestly role with grateful gladness.
  • Baptismal renunciations of Satan: we abjure ‘him’ and his kingdom (all his minions and all his powers)—we reject  not only individual sin but also all the systemic structures of evil and injustice (Christians in the civil rights movement called baptism the “sacrament of integration”). The Church that practices a baptismal spirituality will be an engaged and resistant community, risking everything for the sake of justice.
  • Immersion or dunking (as well as anointing of the senses and extremities in some traditions) and even sprinkling, if done generously, consecrates the whole body for God and underlines God’s commitment to flesh and materiality (‘body’ is as central to the baptismal rite in some traditions as it is in the communion rite). Solidarity with real bodies is at the heart of the Christian life…implications? The Church that practices a baptismal spirituality will engage the “corporal works of mercy” assiduously, honoring all bodies (implications for ministries—health, healing, visitation, prisons, addiction, shelter, food, accompaniment, etc.)
  • Water (and oil and salt and flame…)—The natural elements “mediate” God’s promises in some way/doctrine of creation/the creation truly matters… Ecological concerns are infused in us at baptism just as much as the “charisms.” The Church that recovers a baptismal spirituality will be “green”!
  • What would you add to this list?

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