“Who is deserving or undeserving? For example, in Scripture there are far stronger and explicit objections to multiple divorces and remarriages than there is to a monogamous gay union. Are you willing to say “No” to the baptism of children from a couple that have in their history multiple divorces? If not, why are you willing to give such heterosexual relations a pass, but condemn civilly married gay Christians? Who actually qualifies?”
A LETTER TO THE CLERGY & PEOPLE OF THE DIOCESE OF CENTRAL FLORIDA
Beloved in Christ,
As many of you know, an enormous controversy has happened over the past few days regarding the proposed baptism of the adopted child of a same sex married couple who attend the Cathedral. The baptism was scheduled, but then postponed four days before it was to occur. The couple, Rich & Eric McCaffrey, posted an article on Facebook detailing this process and expressing their grief over the postponement. It caused an online firestorm, including an online petition that garnered 20,000 signatures saying, “Tell Greg Brewer to baptize the children of gay parents” as it was falsely reported and widely disseminated that I was behind the postponement of the baptism. I was not.
After reading the Facebook post, I obtained the contact information and sent an email to Rich McCaffrey. In my opinion, a wrong needed to be made right. We met together in my office last Thursday evening, May 7th. The meeting went very well. The leadership of the Cathedral met in emergency session and affirmed their support for the McCaffrey’s and their child’s baptism. The upshot was that the parents plan to continue attending the Cathedral and present their child for baptism in the near future.
I know that in our Diocese there is a wide range of opinions as to whether or not it is appropriate to baptize the adopted child of gay parents. So I wanted to share with you the results of my own continuing prayers and reflections on this important pastoral challenge. The challenge is found in the charge to bishops to “guard the faith, unity and discipline of the church,” and to “provide for the administration of the sacraments of the New Covenant.”
When I am considering who should be baptized, my preeminent concern is for the one being presented for baptism. Which would be better for the child: to be baptized into the Christian community or to grow up in a secular household devoid of the both the grace of Christ and bonds of a Christian community?
One of the precious truths we celebrate is that God, out of His love, acts on behalf of that child through the waters of baptism. Article XXV of the Articles of Religion clearly states that through the sacraments God “doth work invisibly in us’ and that baptism “is also a sign of Regeneration or New Birth, whereby as by an Instrument they that receive Baptism rightly are grafted into the Church; the promise of the forgiveness of sin, and our adoption to be sons of God by the Holy Ghost are visibly signed and sealed, Faith is confirmed, and Grace increased by virtue of prayer unto God.” In other words, it is through baptism that God claims that child as His own.
The visible Church, acting through the congregation plays her part as well. Our liturgy presumes that baptism is a public service whereby the whole congregation
renews their own vows and promises to “support this person in his life in Christ.” Such promises are crucial to the living out of what we have received in baptism.
Congregations often assume, wrongly, that it is the prime responsibility of the parents to raise their baptized children as Christians with the local church only playing a supportive or secondary role. As a result, congregations often consider the baptism service as a welcoming celebration they watch, instead of a corporate act of re-consecration for the entire congregation- including a sacramental baptism that changes the child’s life forever. In a service of baptism, God acts in grace and the congregation acts in prayerful and sacrificial love.
If we are called to “do all in our power to support this person,” that promise implies a level of effort far greater than having a good Sunday school program. Instead, the implication of the baptismal liturgy is that the task of raising that child into the “full stature of Christ” is primarily that of the local congregation, of which the parents and sponsors are coequal members. It assumes that congregations get personally involved in the lives of the newly baptized and their families through their prayers and the building of friendships. Acting in concert for the raising up of children in Christ takes seriously the fact that such children are full members of the Body and worthy of our best efforts of discipleship, love and pastoral care.
Some will say that it is impossible for gay couples to fully assent to the baptismal covenant, especially the question “do you renounce all sinful desires that draw you from the love of God?” I wrestle with that as well. But I also know that the baptismal covenant is written in language so demanding that I am still discovering places in my life where I live below its demands. The renunciation of sinful desire is a daily discipline. The call for justice forces me not only to care about the plight of the least of these, but it also challenges me to face the places where injustice works to my economic and social advantage.
I know that for some, saying yes to this baptism feels like nothing more than pastoral logic, particularly when one starts with the spiritual needs of the child, regardless of the child’s family situation, and especially if the church is willing to take up her responsibility for spiritual formation. For others it feels like a betrayal of the Gospel and a capitulation on my part in my opposition to gay marriage in the church. Please know, for those on both sides of the gay marriage issue, that I have not changed- at all- my opposition to the church’s recognition of gay marriage as Holy Matrimony. I still believe, strongly, that civil gay unions do not conform to the Biblical definition of Holy Matrimony nor do they conform to the definition of Holy Matrimony found in our Book of Common Prayer.
Given our own brokenness as a people, it seems to me that none of us has the right to cast the first stone. We all live below the demands that both the baptismal covenant and the Scriptures ask of us, and many times consciously. We need the whole church to help us out to become all that God intends us to be. We are on a journey together, and the fact that God has offered us salvation at all is a sign that
God is giving us a free gift of grace to the undeserving. As Romans 3:23 says, “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”
Who is deserving or undeserving? For example, in Scripture there are far stronger and explicit objections to multiple divorces and remarriages than there is to a monogamous gay union. Are you willing to say “No” to the baptism of children from a couple that have in their history multiple divorces? If not, why are you willing to give such heterosexual relations a pass, but condemn civilly married gay Christians? Who actually qualifies?
In other words, we are all broken and sinful people who are deeply in need of the mercy of Christ. There is a child in need of the grace of Christ. There are parents who are committed to raising their son as a Christian. There is a congregation that is willing to accept their baptismal responsibilities. It is for this, that I am saying “Yes” to the baptism of this child