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The Church of Scotland will launch a two-year investigation into the possibility of introducing online baptisms, Communion, and other Christian sacraments.

The church, known as The Kirk, has seen its rolls fall by almost one-third between 2004 and 2015, to just under 364,000 members.

robert_s / Shutterstock

robert_s / Shutterstock

Jesus replied, “Very truly I tell you, no one can see the reign of God unless they are born again.” “How can someone be born when they are old?” Nicodemus asked. “Surely they cannot enter a second time into their mother’s womb to be born!” Jesus answered, “Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the reign of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit.”

—John 3:3-6

IN THE WEEKS LEADING UP to my child’s baptism, I wrestled with this passage from the gospel of John. While it doesn’t explicitly mention baptism, most of the churches where I had worshipped over my years as a Christian nevertheless drew significantly on it when they articulated their understanding of what it is we’re doing in the waters. And so, experiencing a deeply conflicted desire to raise my child—my daughter—in the church, I prayed for God’s Spirit to release fresh insight from old wisdom. I was yearning to understand what it was we were about to do.

Nicodemus is almost always presented as a fool in this story. What a silly question! What a silly man, thinking that there might be any kind of a special relationship between a person’s first birth and their second! I’ve never heard a sermon or attended a Bible study where we acknowledge that for someone hearing this brand new and seemingly nonsensical concept of being born again, Nicodemus’ question is perhaps the most logical one to pose.

Even more to the point, I’d never noticed before that Jesus’ answer to the question doesn’t dismiss the validity of a mother’s labor as the very context out of which we should understand what it is that happens in baptism.

It’s patriarchal theology that did that.

Now, the phrase “patriarchal theology” might be an offensive one simply to toss around. So let me just tip my hand: I’m a card-carrying feminist theologian, Baptist minister mama. From some angles I look like a jumble of contradictions, contradictions that I try to live with grace and glee.

But it’s not the fact that I’m a Baptist that gave me pause on the decision of baptizing my infant daughter in the Anglican church in Toronto where our ecumenical family happens to worship. Of course, as a Baptist minister I affirm the theology of baptism as an outward expression of an inward conversion, an expression that requires one be of a certain age to be able to proclaim it. But at the same time, my ecumenical sensibilities and general disposition of theological expansiveness mean that I simultaneously affirm a more Anglican theology of baptism—which sees God’s invitation to the community of faith as occurring through a grace that precedes our awareness of it. So, being a Baptist married to an Anglican, I didn’t really struggle with the idea of baptizing our daughter on account of her infancy.

Christian Piatt 01-12-2016

When Adam and Eve eat from the Tree of Knowledge in the Garden of Eden, the deed actually is done, so to speak, before they take a bite of fruit. They both know better before they do the deed, but they do it anyway. But like baptism, eating the fruit is an outward expression of an inward choice. And although the law in our culture says that ignorance is no excuse, sin is a little bit different. The truly sinful act takes place when we know better but don’t do better.

And what happens then? 

Joe Kay 09-18-2015

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On my way home from working at the Little League World Series in South Williamsport, Pa., I decided to do something that I’ve dreamed about for many years.

I would visit the lake.

There’s a lake just west of Youngstown, Ohio, that’s been special to me since I was about seven years old. It’s called Lake Milton. I don’t know the story behind how it got its name. But I can share my story of why it’s special.

Some of my friends know that my dad was an alcoholic. He didn’t drink every day, but when he did, he couldn’t stop. And he’d get loud and angry and abusive toward my mom. It was awful and frightening. I remember listening to the arguments and shaking uncontrollably. This went on for several years.

Fortunately, my dad eventually recognized he needed help and joined Alcoholics Anonymous. His sponsor was a funny, kind man named John. He became part of the family — we called him Uncle John. He and his wife, Fran, owned a cottage by Lake Milton. They encouraged us to use it for a week each summer.

Julie Wolfe 09-02-2015

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A Georgia school district is investigating after video of a mass baptism was posted on YouTube.

The video, posted by First Baptist Villa Rica, was shot on school grounds just before football practice.

“We had the privilege of baptizing a bunch of football players and a coach on the field of Villa Rica High School! We did this right before practice! Take a look and see how God is STILL in our schools!” the caption with the video reads.

Heidi Hall 05-19-2015
Photo via Iakov Filimonov /

Baptism of infant in Orthodox Church. Photo via Iakov Filimonov /

In April, an influential American Baptist Churches USA pastor performed the rite, which most Baptists believe is reserved for Christians who are able to make a mature confession of faith. Although there are dozens of Baptist denominations in the U.S., the news made instant waves among those who know and understand Baptist teachings.

Before long, a Southern Baptist seminary president compared the notion of Baptists baptizing infants to vegetarians eating steak.

Photo via Hans Pennink / RNS

Deacon Jim O'Rourke speaks at a memorial service at Most Holy Redeemer Cemetery. Photo via Hans Pennink / RNS

None of the remains of the 26 babies — miscarried, stillborn, and short-lived — whose names are engraved on paving stones or metal butterflies at the Remembrance Garden are actually interred there. But to the families who gathered at the memorial last month, the plot is sacred ground.

“The garden says to us: You matter,” Biskup told them.

“Your baby existed. He or she matters. We remember.”

Karyn Wiseman 04-27-2015
Photo via Aleksandar Stojkovic /

Photo via Aleksandar Stojkovic /

One of the hot button topics in America today is same-sex marriage. This issue has been in the news often due to same-sex marriage bans being struck down in state after state and on the minds of many after the controversial “religious freedom” law passed in Indiana (and similar ones already enacted in other states). And it has been in the hearts of many gay and lesbian couples faced with the possibility of being denied access to services because of who they are and who they love.

Imagine planning and preparing for your wedding for months, making decisions about guest lists, music, menus, seating charts, and attire. You go to the lone bakeshop in town to talk about your cake choices, only to be told that the baker is not willing to work with you because you are gay or a bi-racial couple or a couple from another faith tradition. Imagine the feelings of rejection, isolation, and denial that you would potentially feel, because the state allows this denial of services. This scenario is not hard to imagine, because it is legally allowed in many places throughout our country.

“Othering” happens all the time for many different reasons – not just sexuality, race, and gender.

About 10 years ago, my son and I were at a local park playing on the swings when a group of young boys started taunting a small child with a disfigured arm about 50 yards away from us. They were calling her ugly names and throwing small rocks and sticks in her direction. We had seen this little girl playing happily, running around, and laughing with delight. But now she looked terrified.

I heard the taunts and began moving that direction to intercede, but my son outran me. Only six years old at the time, he yelled at the boys, “Leave her alone. She’s just like us.” The boys saw and heard my son and likely saw an adult close on his heels. They abandoned their harassment and ran away.

Photo via Elena Stepanova / Shutterstock / RNS

A mother and baby breast-feeding. Photo via Elena Stepanova / Shutterstock / RNS

While baptizing 33 babies in the Sistine Chapel on Jan. 11, Pope urged mothers to breast-feed their infants if they were hungry.

“Mothers, give your children milk — even now,” Francis said. “If they cry because they are hungry, breast-feed them, don’t worry.”

The pope departed from his prepared text, which included the phrase “give them milk,” and inserted the Italian term “allattateli,” which means “breast-feed them.”

The celebration took place to mark the day Jesus was baptized by John the Baptist in the waters of the Jordan River.

Francis also asked the parents gathered to remember the poor mothers around the world.

“Let us thank the Lord for the gift of milk, and we pray for those mothers — there are so many, unfortunately — who are not able to give their children food to eat,” he said.

As the church considers the events of these days, the greatest challenge we face is this: Will we allow our view of "what we see" to go unexamined?
Christian Piatt 10-23-2014

Disquiet Time. Photo via Christian Piatt.

I was asked to contribute a chapter to a new book called Disquiet Time: Rants and Reflections on the Good Book by the Skeptical, the Faithful, and a Few Scoundrels. The volume, an edited compilation put together by Cathleen Falsani and Jennifer Grant, takes on many of the weird texts in scripture that we either gloss over or completely ignore because they’re just too … well, weird.

Of course there are plenty of spiritual oddballs to choose from, but as soon as I got the invite, I knew I wanted to write about the book of Revelation (note that there is not “S” at the end; there is no such book as Revelationsssssssss in the Bible). Suffice it to say that my relationship with the last book in the bible is a little bit complicated. In fact, it ruined my potential career as a lifetime Baptist. A number of you may have heard bits or pieces of the story about how I got kicked out of church as a teenager, but may not know all the details.

Well kids, you can blame it all on one freaky Bible book, one intransigent teenager and a floppy-Bible-wielding youth minister. But although the experience pushed me out of church for a solid decade, it didn’t forever ruin my search for the divine. But this particular story isn’t about that. It’s about how I got one particular youth minister so red-faced and flustered that he cussed me out and almost hit me square in the noggin with the Good Book.

The devil is portrayed in “The Temptation of Christ,” an 1854 painting by Ary Scheffer. Public domain image.

While Christians waited to learn whether the Church of England would approve the consecration of women bishops, the church’s governing body — the General Synod — quietly voted to drop all future references to the devil in a new baptism service.

The simplified wording was written after priests said the traditional service was unnecessarily complex and might confuse people who are not regular churchgoers.

In the traditional service, godparents are asked whether they are ready to renounce the devil and all his works for the sake of the child being baptized.

Monsignor James Bartylla is vicar general of the Diocese of Madison. RNS photo courtesy Brent King, Diocese of Madison.

Despite numerous controversies over dismissing gay Catholics from church posts and the U.S. hierarchy’s campaign against same-sex marriage, Catholic leaders have carefully, if quietly, avoided doing anything to block gay couples from having their children baptized.

But a move by a bishop in Wisconsin to route all such decisions through his office is raising questions about whether that neutral zone will now become another battleground, and whether the growing acceptance of gay parents will inevitably draw more attention to this practice and force church leaders to establish clearer rules.

The default position for most bishops — reiterated in a major Vatican document released on Thursday — is that if the parents pledge to raise the child Catholic, then no girl or boy should be refused baptism.

The Rev. Fred Luter, outgoing president of the Southern Baptist Convention. RNS photo courtesy of Baptist Press.

For Southern Baptists, it’s happened again: Another annual report shows the denomination is losing members and baptizing fewer people.

The Rev. Fred Luter, outgoing president of the Southern Baptist Convention, thinks old-time methods to spread the gospel have met a culture that’s younger, more diverse, and doesn’t necessarily see the pew — or even sin — as a priority.

“Our society is just not what it used to be,” said Luter, who admitted he’s discouraged by the reports. “When I grew up there was a challenge by parents in the home that our sons and daughters would be in church. It was a given. … That day and time is gone.”

Luter said he and others will address the issue at this year’s annual meeting, which takes place June 10-11 in Baltimore. But beyond calls for reversing the trend, there’s little sign of agreement on a way forward.

Christian Piatt 05-01-2014
Sarah Palin in Plano, Texas in 2009, Jennifer A. Walz /

Sarah Palin in Plano, Texas in 2009, Jennifer A. Walz /

Most people in their right minds consider Sarah Palin’s statement about using waterboarding to “baptize” terrorists as insensitive at the very least. It further reinforces the notion that she will say or do nearly anything to grab a headline, even if it is at the expense of her own integrity, and perhaps that of her political cohorts or even her faith.

She’d be doing all of us a favor if she’d simply stop talking publically. But in as much as she continues to be afforded a microphone and speaking pulpit, we get to bear witness to her attempts to improvise a caricature of herself on the fly.

Perhaps the most disturbing part of the statement to me is not the brazenness of it, or even the apparent lack of self-awareness or personal filter. It’s that she’s actually speaking on behalf of a significant – albeit shrinking – subset of Christian culture in the United States. It’s the strain that believes that the Prayer of Jabez (a prayer about expanding one’s spiritual territory) is a Manifest Destiny of sorts from Jesus to his followers. We’re to reach to all corners of the earth, emboldened with a “be assimilated or be eliminated” mentality at our backs.

Jarrod McKenna 04-28-2014
Foot-washing ceremony. Photo courtesy Jarrod McKenna

Foot-washing ceremony. Photo courtesy Jarrod McKenna

Oh, Sarah Palin.

So you’ve most likely heard Sarah Palin used baptism as a metaphor for waterboarding terrorists. (I mean I heard and I’m in Australia!) I found out when fellow neo-Anabaptist Tyler Tully sent me his reflections. Many are blogging thoughtful responses. But more and more this is my conviction: the best critique of the bad is the practice of the beautiful. So I want to testify to the beauty of the baptisms I was a part of on Sunday.

I do so knowing that the despondence and darkness I feel when baptism is equated with the diabolical is driven out in the joy of the mystery of what happen when we say yes to the Holy Spirit by wading in the water. Our new sister Natha, brother Ky, and I met separately in the End Poverty movement. Both of them, in quiet different ways, found themselves being found by God while looking for a better world. And in Jesus they found the world they were looking for has started! Without a dry eye in the community that surrounded them on Sunday, they shared their wanderings in the wilderness before following Jesus through the waters.

Adam Ericksen 03-07-2014
Courtesy Imagine Dragons

Dan Reynolds, lead singer of Imagine Dragons, deals with his demon in their "Demons" video. Courtesy Imagine Dragons

“Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.”

Thus begins the spiritual drama of Lent, the forty days before Easter that commemorates Jesus’ wilderness experience. No human, not even Jesus, can escape the temptation of the devil.

Just before Jesus was led into the wilderness, he was baptized in the Jordan River by John. As the Gospel of Matthew reports, when Jesus emerged from the water “a voice from heaven said, ‘This is my Son, my Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.’”

Jesus’ identity as God’s Son had always been true, but he received confirmation of his relationship with God at his baptism.

Philip's encounter with the Ethiopian eunuch. A Bible study.

Abstract smoke image, grace illustration, Amnartk /

Abstract smoke image, grace illustration, Amnartk /

One sort of Christian believes taking Eucharist weekly saves her. Another Christian believes his confession of Jesus Christ as Lord saves him. Still another looks to his Baptism. Another to her participation in the body of Christ. One to his repentance. And another to her care for the sick, the hungry, the prisoner, and the poor.

We elevate one belief or practice over another, then divide ourselves as Christ followers by the priority we set when, in fact, all of these are taught as saving by Christ, who alone is our salvation.

Christ saves me, not the accuracy and purity of my beliefs. Christ saves me, not my works. Christ saves me, not the measure of my adherence to a doctrine or practice.

When all is said and done, many Christians tend to look to their habits, their faith, and their perseverance when it comes to salvation rather than to the work, belief, and faithfulness of Christ in us, over us, under us, and through us.

A priest prepares for a baptism. Photo courtesy of DainaFalk via Shutterstock

The Church of England has been accused of “dumbing down” the baptism service following the introduction of an alternative liturgy in which parents and godparents need not repent of their “sins” or reject “the devil.”

In the traditional version of the service, parents and godparents are asked: “Do you reject the devil and all rebellion against God?” and “Do you repent of the sins that separate us from God and neighbor?”

In the alternative version, now being tested in 400 churches, parents are instead asked to “reject evil and all its many forms and all its empty promises.”