For most churches, being baptized is a critical step. When I was a kid, the fact that I hadn’t been by the time I was in grade school raised eyebrows.
I’ve always believed in God. In fact, I can’t really remember a time in which I didn’t believe in God. So it may seem strange that being baptized was a process that took a long time for me.
Early on, when I was little, I believed because my parents told me God was real, and I believed my parents. As I grew older, I began to seek God, and I began to have feelings that I genuinely believed — and still do, in fact — were “God-inspired.”
I won’t pretend to say that strange occurrences, like planes righting themselves from nosedives moments before impact or the last-second avoidance of a deadly collision happened because I started praying and really looking for my own understanding of who God. Bad things still happened. They always do. Sometimes to good people, sometimes to bad people. But they always happen.
What else happened was that I began to feel God’s presence in my life, even before I really put two and two together and understood what it was. I accepted Jesus Christ as my Savior.
So it was time to be baptized, the ritual in many Protestant churches in which you are immersed in a pool of water as a symbol of Christ’s blood washing away your sins. Essentially, you wade into the water, usually wearing some kind of choir-type robe, where a pastor is waiting for you. He puts one hand in the middle of your back, the other over your nose to keep you from getting choked, and leans you back into the water until it covers your face then pulls you right back up.
Piece of cake.
Except for one thing: I couldn’t swim.
So the thought of being immersed in water, even with someone as trustworthy as a pastor guaranteeing me that he wouldn’t let anything happen to me, was just not going to fly.
My dad was in the Navy. He loves the water. He loves boats. More than I ever will. My mom was not in the Navy. She has little use for boats. She prefers land. I’m much more like Mom.
So I was 12 years old when I finally learned how to swim, under protest, of course. My reward for making three complete laps in the pool, from the 3 foot side to the (gasp!) 12 foot side, back and forth, was a small color television for my room.
(Even back then, the way to persuade me had to involve television one way or another!)
Okay, so I had the swimming part somewhat out of the way. I didn’t like swimming, and still don’t, but I was now vaguely convinced that being dunked under water for about a half-second would not prove fatal.
Then, I began to realize that there was a second problem.
There was a group of little old ladies at the small Baptist church my family attended, the little old “blue hairs” as I like to call them, who liked to whisper about everyone, spreading gossip to anyone in their circle who’d listen.
“There must be something wrong with any child who’s 12 and isn’t Baptized,” they seemed to say with their glances.
“There must be something wrong with that child’s parents for not forcing him into that pool.”
Forcing? Doesn’t seem all that Christian to me. The point of accepting Christ is that is a personal decision that you make. No one else can do it for you; if they could, Billy Graham would have taken care of everyone in one fell swoop decades ago.
I once heard these particular blue hairs bragging to each other about how many people they had “brought to Christ.” As if it were a softball game and they were the star players.
In short, there was something wrong with these views, and I wasn’t entirely sure that I wanted to be baptized in such a church. So I wasn’t.
Shortly thereafter, my family visited a different church, liked it, and transferred to that one. Within a month or so of officially joining, I was baptized. And obviously, I survived the procedure.
That was more than 35 years ago.
And I still marvel at how the impressions those women left with me and my family: their little whispering campaign was enough to make us move on, and enough to make me reconsider being baptized. I hope that if anyone else felt that way, they left, too; that’s not what church is supposed to be about.
Editor’s Note: This post was originally published in 2008, but it has been slightly revised and republished in 2019.