Thursday, October 24, 2013

Baptism of Prince George Opens Discussion of Why Baptism Rates Are Dropping: People's "Misunderstanding" of the Church's Welcome?

The baptism yesterday of Prince George, son of Prince William and Duchess Catherine by Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby, is eliciting much attention today: at his Slacktivist site today, Fred Clark links to a posting by BabyBlue Anglican, who agrees with Bishop Daniel Martins of Springfield, Illinois, that this baptism is "an evangelistic moment."

For Religion News Service (and by way of National Catholic Reporter), Cathy Lynn Grossman notes that baptism rates in the U.S. are falling, and notably in some of the churches of the hard-right that have until recently touted their success at beefing up their numbers as a divine stamp of approval for churches of the right, while God shows "His" disapproval of liberal or progressive churches as the numbers in those churches plummet. Grossman writes,

The SBC [i.e., Southern Baptist Convent], which considers baptism a key marker of Christian faith and also denominational vitality, tallied 314,959 baptisms in 2012 -- a low not seen since 1948.

Grossman offers a number of suggestions about why baptismal rates may be dropping: increasing secularism, more cross-faith marriages, fewer church weddings, and, finally, "misunderstandings." The last reason catches my notice, in particular. Here, Grossman cites Mark Gray, senior research associate at Georgetown's Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate, who says that single parents may "misunderstand" that their babies aren't welcome for baptism in Catholic churches.

Sr. Maureen Fiedler also notes the trend of fewer baptisms in an NCR article today. On the trend, she cites the Southern Baptist Convention's executive committee president Frank Page, who observes, "People want God but they're not happy with churches."

To which Fiedler responds: "That's a Catholic reality as well as a Baptist one."

I'm struck by several comments in the thread following Fiedler's article. Justmaybe writes,

Too, too often the feeling of being unwelcome surely is not a MISapprehension. For many, the conditions of communal acceptance and welcoming--by clergy and by parish laity--throw cold water on the fires of baptism. 
A single parent and gay parents KNOW their apprehension is real, painful, and lasting. It is unfair and untrue to call it misapprehension.

...should have included the treatment of gay, lesbian and trans gendered, divorced. Thanks Justmaybe. I guess the list can just get longer and longer as the reality of "community" becomes dimmer and dimmer.

I agree with justmaybe and dennism502. I don't think that many of the parents in "irregular" relationships who choose not to present their children for baptism "misunderstand" the message the church is giving to them. I think they understand it very well: you're not welcome here.

Through its top pastoral leaders, the Catholic church has spent several decades now making it perfectly plain to its adherents that gay and lesbian folks are welcome only insofar as we hide our identities and remain silent about our lives, that people who don't toe the bishops' political line regarding hot-button issues may find themselves susceptible to shunning and exclusion in some parishes, that people wearing rainbow sashes or badges of solidarity with the rainbow movement might as well not approach the altar, that divorced and remarried Catholics are not welcome in the communion line, etc.

Just two days ago, Bishop Thomas Paprocki of Springfield, Illinois, announced that people wearing rainbow sashes or who identify themselves as supporters of those wearing rainbow sashes aren't welcome inside his cathedral. Paprocki stated,

It is blasphemy to show disrespect or irreverence to God or to something holy. Since Jesus clearly taught that marriage as created by God is a sacred institution between a man and a woman (see Matthew 19:4-6 and Mark 10:6-9), praying for same-sex marriage should be seen as blasphemous and as such will not be permitted in the cathedral.

Archbishop Gerhard Müller, head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, has just responded to the appeal of many Catholics in many parts of the world for church pastors to show pastoral sensitivity to divorced and remarried Catholics by reiterating that these Catholics are not welcome to receive the sacraments.

People--gay and lesbian Catholics, divorced Catholics, Catholics whose political consciences contradict the bishops' instructions and who refuse to be silent about what they think, people living in "irregular" marital arrangements--don't "misunderstand" the message the church's top pastors intend to give them. They understand it all too well.

And they behave accordingly, by walking away from a community that professes to be welcoming and inclusive, while too many of its members behave in anything but a welcoming and inclusive way--and as many of its "liberal" intellectuals and scholars, those teaching in Catholic academies and representing the church in the public square, keep their mouths firmly shut about all this as they continue to exercise their right, as the righteous, to approach the altar.

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