My Son's Baptism

On Sunday, July 12, my oldest (13-year-old) son was baptized in a swimming pool. My other son (11) and daughter (9) had already been baptized at a Bible church two years ago while my oldest son was away on a Boy Scout campout. I wasn’t sure whether he would ever choose to be baptized: he has (understandably) expressed confusion to me about what to believe, and he doesn’t like to be in the public spotlight.

Though I continued attending an evangelical church with my family for four years following my deconversion, I dropped out in 2004. The rest of the family attends a local Bible church on most Sundays, but about once a month they meet at a “home church” with some friends in the neighborhood. Though I don’t attend the services, I do join the group for the Sunday noon meal afterward. It was at this home church that a spontaneous offer went out for anyone to be baptized at a nearby pool. I learned at the meal that my son had assented to be baptized (though I have reason to believe it was more out of social pressure than conviction). He expressed concern to me about the kind of questions he would be asked. I really didn’t feel like I could say much, so I told him it was up to him.

We all took off to the pool after the meal. There, the leader of the home church baptized a younger boy and then my son. The only question asked was, “Do you believe that Jesus is the Son of God and that he died for your sins?”, to which my son somewhat replied “Yes,” then received a dunking.

Afterward the leader (who knows what I believe) told me “Thanks,” to which I (as one who generally likes to be nice to others) instinctively replied, “Thank you.” Later I wondered if I had performed an initiation rite to another religion (or to atheism) for one of his sons, would he have said, “Thank you”? I doubt I was bothered as much by the situation as he would have been bothered by the converse. My own baptism at age 12 didn’t prevent me from leaving the fold later in life, nor does this recent event in itself mystically lock my son into anything irrevocable. Perhaps also I’m cognizant of the fact that I started out my marriage and family as a believer, so I don’t feel as peeved about it as if I had been a skeptic all along and my son had been pulled into fundamentalism out of the blue. Still, it’s a reminder of the fact that religion is relentlessly striving to claim as many as possible of its own, and that someday my son will be forced to make a decision about his direction. If I sit idly by, he will likely take the path of least resistance under this pressure, even if he remains inwardly confused about what to believe.

Even so, I’m not super worried: I was able to find my way out of faith without the support of either parent; at least my children have my example. And if they never see things my way, I can’t say that’s the outcome I desire, but I’ll love them all the same.

I’m sure I’ll hear from some who think I should take a harder line. It’s difficult to say what’s best, but one thing is sure: I love my wife and kids and don’t want anything to jeopardize our union. I will not hesitate to continue gently presenting my views to my children, but I will not force the issue to the detriment of our relationship. That’s the difference between my approach and that of Jesus, who said,

Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to turn ‘a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law—a man’s enemies will be the members of his own household’ (Matthew 10:34-36).