Common Roots: Ancient Evangelical Future Conference

Same-Sex Marriage and Infant Baptism

A controversy has erupted in the Diocese of Central Florida over an apparent request by the dean of the cathedral to postpone the infant baptism of a same sex couple.

A controversy has erupted in the Diocese of Central Florida over an apparent request by the dean of the cathedral to postpone the infant baptism of a same sex couple.  This led to Facebook and blog postings, general outrage and immediate calls for charges under Title IV.  All this before the facts were known.

Given the lack of knowledge of all the relevant facts in this instance it is not appropriate for reasonable people to comment on this particular case, let alone encourage legal proceedings founded on ignorance of the facts.   We will not address this case here.  However, the question of baptizing infants of same sex couples raises theological issues deserving comment.

Because an infant is unable to make a profession of faith, the Anglican understanding of Christian initiation requires that this profession is made on behalf of the infant by parents and godparents who thereby undertake to raise the child in the fullness of the faith—the “full stature of Christ.”  Baptism is a rite of the church not a civil right of the individual and parents.  It is certainly not some kind of medieval amulet against ill fortune for babies.

Under the Anglican concept of “lex orandi, lex credendi” (the rule of prayer is the rule of faith) the public worship of the church is the teaching of the church.  When a same sex couple (or an unmarried couple) present their child for baptism they are required to answer publicly the following question:

“Do you renounce all sinful desires that draw you from the love of God?

 I renounce them.”

This question and answer, as well as others in the baptismal covenant, unavoidably present the question of what the church’s teaching on sex outside traditional marriage really is.  If the same sex or unmarried couple answers this question affirmatively, they and the officiant are publicly proclaiming that the teaching of the church does not consider their relationship sinful.  Under the lex orandi standard, that is the teaching of the church.

What is the teaching of The Episcopal Church on this issue?  If it is the same as that of the church throughout the centuries and of the overwhelming majority of Christians today, these parents in irregular relationships cannot give the appropriate assurance and the infant should not be baptized; or the promises on behalf of the child must be made solely by the godparents who do accept the teaching and the responsibilities associated with it; or finally, the rite must be changed to delete any reference to church teaching.

If TEC has a new insight not shared by the apostolic churches that such relationships are not sinful it should boldly proclaim this teaching and bring church discipline to bear on those who dissent. 

If TEC has no teaching on this foundational institution of society, the institution that preceded all others, or if it thinks that the matter is doctrinally “indifferent”, it should admit its theological incoherence or indifference, and say so.  But it should also desist from mob rule, and recognize that those who maintain the traditional Christian teaching will reflect that teaching in their public worship.

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