Baptismal Services Shouldn’t Be Politeness or distinguished ceremonies. Instead, they should be provocative political statements that stir more than comfort and call believers to action, according to Brad Braxton.
“Baptismal services should not be polite. Rather, they should create a guttural awareness among those about to be baptized and others that following God will sometimes be costly, ”Braxton said in a talk presented by Louisville Presbyterian Seminary in Kentucky.
The cost of following Jesus during baptism can be physical and even fatal, he said, referring to cases of police brutality and reports of growing vigilance.
“Baptism is, in the most radical sense, a desire to join Jesus in death, ”he declared. “I remind families and candidates for baptism that when Jesus entered the Jordan to be baptized, he signed his death certificate. “
Braxton is the founding senior pastor of the Open Church of Maryland, is a former senior pastor of Riverside Church in New York City, and has previously taught at Southern Methodist University, Vanderbilt University, and Wake Forest University. He’s an ordained Baptist minister.
The topic of his November 4 lecture was “Troubling Waters: Black Theology, Baptism and Black Lives Matter”.
Baptism should stir more than comfort in order to motivate and inform the kind of cultural and political activism exemplified by the Black Lives Matter movement – just as the rite initiated Jesus’ revolutionary ministry to serve the oppressed in his day, said Braxton, who also serves as Head of Diversity, Equity and Head of Inclusion at St. Luke’s School in New York. “The embodied ritual of baptism can raise awareness of right or wrong political arrangements and how these arrangements devalue our black lives in particular. “
Those who submit to baptism should remember the responsibilities for social justice and the potential personal consequences that come with being a follower of Christ, he said.
He offered a litany of Christians whose discipleship ended their lives, including the four schoolgirls killed in the 1963 bombing of 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama, and the nine Christians shot dead during a Bible study at Mother Emanuel AME Church in Charleston. , SC in 2015. Both crimes were committed by white supremacists.
Many more could and should be added to the list, and baptisms are the time and place to do it, Braxton said. “At baptisms we should call out the names of those who have been martyred in the justice movement and in particular in the ongoing movement to affirm that black lives matter.”
“During baptisms, we should call out the names of those who have been martyred in the righteousness movement. “
Adding these names can be difficult because it is an ever-growing list and because many names are unknown, he added. “The apparent inability to compile comprehensive lists of blacks killed by law enforcement or self-defense justice is overwhelming.”
Braxton said this righteous perspective of baptism and faith is a consequence of the political theology Jesus preached and lived in his ministry – and which led to his execution as a seditionist.
But that concept didn’t start with Jesus and the Roman Empire, he said, noting that the Scriptures are replete with examples of God demanding justice for the oppressed – an inherently political concern.
“So it’s a matter of social justice and through baptism, Jesus said, “I join this populist political movement whereby the righteousness of God will be made manifest for all of God’s children, not just the powerful and the elite.
“If we want to change the world in light of our baptismal identity… don’t just talk about the things you want to do, do the things you want to do. “
Many Christians think the term “political theology” is contradictory, he admitted. “Instead of being oxymoronic, political theology criticizes the ironic nature of versions of Christianity that seek to domesticate, if not eradicate, the political symbols of Christianity. The framework of political theology could help us revitalize our baptismal theology.
Braxton urged believers to find ways to translate political theology into action. “If we want to change the world in light of our baptismal identity… don’t just talk about the things you want to do, do the things you want to do. “
The overhaul of baptismal practices in the church could be a place to start connecting the faith to Black Lives Matter and other social justice causes, he advised. “Rituals are a powerful language… through which people express their deepest beliefs, but can lose their effectiveness if they are not familiar with contemporary social issues. Baptism is a liturgical act which can raise our social and political conscience.
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