Baptism in the Christian faith, certainly in the United Methodist tradition, is an initiation rite that welcomes the person being baptized into the community of faith. It’s also a ritual that helps mark that person as a Christian. It starts with hospitality, but it quickly moves into a place of responsibility.
At every baptism in The United Methodist Church, we ask these questions:
Do you renounce the spiritual forces of wickedness, reject the evil powers of this world, and repent of your sin?
Do you accept the freedom and power that God gives you to resist evil, injustice, and oppression in whatever forms they present themselves?
Do you confess Jesus Christ as your savior, put your whole trust in his grace, and promise to serve him as your Lord in union with the church which Christ has opened to people of all ages, nations, and races?
Many of my friends who serve local church congregations incorporated the rite of a “baptismal remembrance” ritual last Sunday – both because it tied into the assigned scripture reading for the day but also in the wake of the racial oppression and violence perpetrated in Charlottesville, Virginia over the same weekend. I believe many of them saw this as a way to remind their congregations and the Church that to follow Jesus means to resist evil and injustice in ourselves, in others, and in the systems that exist where we live, work, and gather in our communities.
Like many of you, my Facebook feed was full of the horrendous pictures, stories, and realities of last weekend’s tragedies. As a privileged white male who also feels called to follow Jesus and to resist evil, injustice, and oppression, I wasn’t sure what to say or do in the moment. Then one friend posted,
Everyone has been posting their shock about what happened in Charlottesville. Honestly, I'm not shocked. I'm outraged and terrified, but I'm not shocked. This is what happens when we stay silent, folks. We all need to do better to confront racism and racial oppression every damn day...not just when a bunch of nazis come to town with tiki torches. (Shared with permission)
I couldn’t agree more with her words. Whether we identify as Christian or not, we are all a part of the human community. Being a part of that community draws us out of ourselves to be in relationship with each other. Lives lived with intention require practice and that means working on ourselves, each other, and our communities every day.
It means owning up to the ways in which we are privileged and oppressed. It means being intentional about having conversations with people who are not like us and finding out that we have some things in common and lots to learn from the things that may not feel so common. This is everyday work that can make us, our faith communities, and our larger community healthier.
The Rev. Dr. Lyn Pace is the college chaplain at Oxford College of Emory University and lives in Oxford, Georgia with his partner, Ami, and their son, Sam.