Baptism's True Claim

Jeanie Wylie-Kellermann, writer, activist, and longtime editor of The Witness magazine, died on December 31, 2005, after more than seven years of struggle with brain cancer. Jeanie was married to Bill Wylie-Kellermann and was the mother of two daughters, Lydia and Lucy. This article is adapted from a sermon preached on the occasion of her memorial service in Detroit on January 8, 2006.

Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?
—Romans 6:3

Just a year before Jeanie Wylie-Kellermann collapsed in the bathroom of her home with the first seizure of what would become the long journey that ended on New Year’s Eve 2005, she was the keynote speaker at the 1997 Finger Lakes Conference in Geneva, N.Y. The theme of that gathering was “The Politics of Baptism.”

Jeanie spoke about how she had struggled with whether to baptize her daughter Lydia when she was an infant. In an article she wrote for the Detroit Catholic Worker paper some years before, Jeanie reflected on her protective impulses:

Water, words, community. Offering our child back to God. We would stand with Abraham at the sacrifice. We would give her to a God who models the cross. We would invite her to listen for a voice calling in the night, to vigil, to put herself at risk, to leave family and friends, to speak clearly a truth for which one can be executed. We would thereby invite her into the risks we have already elected and, by God’s grace, still will elect to take with our own lives. In the act of baptism we would wash away the possibility that our concern for her might justify a diminishing of our own obedience to our Lord’s perverse ethic of vulnerability and gain through loss.

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Sojourners Magazine July 2006
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