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The Baptismal Equality Act of 2040 Print E-mail
By Francis J. Beckwith   
Friday, 10 May 2013

The year is 2040 and the U. S. Congress, with the president’s signature, has just passed a law, the Baptismal Equality Act of 2040. It requires that no Christian church – Protestant, Catholic, or Orthodox – may discriminate in terms of membership based on the nature of a prospective member’s baptism. So, for example, a Baptist congregation can no longer require rebaptism of a former Catholic or Presbyterian who had been baptized as an infant.

I imagine that you, like me, would find such a law outrageous. After all, baptism is, for most Christians, a sacrament of initiation that marks a person as a member of the community of believers.  So, essentially, with this law the state is requiring that the Church publicly assert what it believes to be false. It’s difficult to imagine a more egregious violation of religious liberty that does not involve outright suppression, imprisonment, torture, or martyrdom. So we can safely say that it is uncontroversial to claim that the Baptismal Equality Act (BEA) is seriously wrong.

Now suppose that instead of BEA, Congress passes the Baptismal Equality Labor Act (BELA). It turns out that in 2040 some businesses, owned by devout Christians, provide small stipends (5 percent of their salary) to their baptized employees so that these believers may have more money by which they can tithe to their respective communions.

What has happened, though, is that given the wide range of theological traditions represented by the ownerships of these businesses, not all alleged believers are covered by their employers. Some businesses owned by Baptists refuse to recognize employees who were baptized as infants. Other Christian employees – who have never been baptized – complain that they are being discriminated against because their churches don’t require baptism for salvation since it is merely “an ordinance.” Many non-Christian workers argue that they engage in practices that seem like baptism to them – e.g., circumcision – and thus should be recognized as baptisms.

These businesses are, of course, not state actors, and thus their baptismal income provisions are not violations of the U.S. Constitution’s free exercise and establishment clauses. Nevertheless, Congress has passed legislation in order to remedy what it believes to be an intolerable wrong.

BELA requires any business that offers baptismal stipends to count all their employees as baptized if they have been baptized by any church at all, are members of a church that does not require baptism, or have undergone a similar rite practiced in a non-Christian community. It also requires every local jurisdiction in America to provide for “civil” baptisms administered by agents of the state. So, even if someone does not fulfill any of the first three criteria, you can get a quickie baptism at city hall by paying a small fee.

It seems, however, BELA is no less outrageous than BEA. Although it may appear as if BELA deals only with “secular” businesses, while BEA concerns religious bodies, it is a distinction without a difference.  Religious bodies consist of believers. Serious believers are commanded by their respective faiths to live a multilayered, fully integrated existence, which means that they understand themselves to be believers in every facet of their lives, often thinking of their work as a vocation fully devoted to glorifying God.

          Marriage by the State (Oakland Tribune, June 25, 1933)

For Christians, this means embracing St. Paul’s command to “take every thought captive to obey Christ.” (2 Cor. 10: 5 NRSV) For God “has put all things under [Christ’s] feet and has made him the head over all things for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.” (Eph. 1:22-23 NRSV)

BELA, nevertheless, requires that believers assert by their actions that state-sponsored baptisms are real baptisms, even though they believe them to be fictions. This is no different than the state requiring them to act as if the Eucharist is mere bread (if they are Catholic) or that non-kosher food is permissible to eat (if they are Jewish) simply because the state says so.

If one were to replace “baptism” with “marriage,” the outrageousness of the state’s coercion would not diminish. Thus, for example, if the state coerces a Christian photographer to take pictures at a gay commitment ceremony, or requires that Catholic Charities get out of the adoption business unless it is willing to include gay couples as potential adoptive parents, this is no different than the state requiring that businesses owned by religious citizens accept the legitimacy of state-approved baptisms.

Of course, the state has been in the marriage business for quite some time.  But it no more invented the institution than it invented “baptism” in our future dystopia. So, if it’s wrong for the state to coerce believers to accept what they believe to be faux baptisms, it should be just as wrong for the state to coerce believers to accept what they believe to be faux marriages.

One may rebut this argument by suggesting that if we allow businesses and individual citizens to reject certain marriages as illegitimate, then what’s to prevent racists from appealing to their religious beliefs as justifying racial discrimination?

But this misdirection by false analogy can simply be turned around: if we allow the state to have a monopoly on what counts as the correct view of marriage, then what’s to prevent a racist state from appealing to its marriage monopoly to justify the prohibition of interracial marriage? The race card can be played in either hand.

The marriage debate, it turns out, is indeed about a fundamental freedom: religious liberty. It is about whether the government has the wisdom and authority to amend the catechisms of millions of religious believers and then to demand their obedience.

Francis J. Beckwith is Professor of Philosophy and Church-State Studies at Baylor University, where he is also a Resident Scholar in Baylor’s Institute for Studies of Religion.
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Comments (10)Add Comment
written by Manfred, May 10, 2013
2040? At the 2012 Democratic National Convention it was demonstrated that the Party had no interest whatever in God.
Obama had to insist the Name(?) be mentioned so "God given" was inserted in their platform. The mask is off. America is a secular State ruled by an elite which is hostile to any serious religious teachings. It has an agenda and this agenda will be realized. The Kermit Gosnell case, state after state voting for sodomy marriage (after the legislators have received enormous bribes from members of this elite), should show any sentient citizen that they, their way of life and their very lives are forfeit. In January, 1933, the National Socialist Party was elected to a majority position in the Reichstag. In March of that year, these Nazis (as we called them) elected Hitler Chancellor. Some few of you might have heard the rest of the story. It is happening in our time to us and God is allowing it as a punishment, just as He allowed World Wars I and II and the rise of world Communism.
written by DS, May 10, 2013
The template for how individual Catholics and the Church can deal with the conflicts presented by gay civil marriage already exists.

Re-marriage of divorced persons is not permitted in the Catholic Church, yet the state has not compelled the Church to recognize them and Catholic clergy are not compelled to officiate at them. To be honest, I don't how a Catholic hotelier would be treated if he/she refused to rent a room for a second-marriage honeymoon, but haven't read many stories in the paper lately that this is a problem.

The divorced/re-married heterosexual civil marriage should concern the Church much more than gay civil marriage: it is much more widespread and it is something that Jesus spoke directly to (Matthew 19), whereas he was silent about homosexuality. Divorce and re-marriage is destroying a God-made union.

I've never heard any bishop or priest argue that civil re-marriage for divorced persons offends Catholic sensibilities or that special protections are needed for the Church and its members. If gay marriage is so threatening to religious liberty, why isn't the Church manning the barricades about civil divorce and remarriage?
written by Deacon Ed Peitler, May 10, 2013
I have said it many times before and repeat it now again: there will come a day when the Catholic Church will be forced to not recognize any marriages but Her own - neither civil nor religious since the rest define marriage to be something wholly different from how we define it. It's now a matter of predicting when this will happen.
written by Ken Tremendous, May 10, 2013
DS raises some interesting points that I had not considered. The underlying problem with the analogy with baptism that the author presents is that that there has always been jurisidictional overlap between the church and the state over the institution of marriage (though never with baptism). This is because there has always been a compelling state interest in supporting marriage even though one can make a clear theological case that marriage (being rooted in natural law--going back to the 2nd creation story)really comes from God and not from the government. A better analogy would be property rights---which are also rooted in natural law, but which the state must recognize and support.

The Church already recognizes state jurisdiction over marriage. She (rightly) complies with the local marriage laws so that people who get married in the Church will also be married in the eyes of the government (blood tests, licensing forms and paperwork etc). She does not "recognize" divorce decrees for the most part, however one must be civilly divorced before Church tribunals will grant annulments.

Perhaps in the coming legal climate the best we can hope for is to completely separate "marriage" from state control. This would give the state no control at all over "marriage" while the state would regulate a parallel institution called "civil unions". Marriage under this scenario would be exclusively a domain of the Church--while "civil unions" would belong to the state. It might be good for a red state to experiment with this and see what the implications are.

In the meantime, I think we need to push for religious exemptions and religious freedom clauses in the coming gay marriage regime that are as broad as possible.
written by Darryl Jordan, May 10, 2013
It's chilling to imagine how many Catholics today would agree 'in principle' with Congress passing such a Baptismal Equality Act. After all, few Catholics 'like' the fact that Baptists rebaptize fellow Catholics who get 'saved'. Not liking something is a really big deal to lots of people.

They just can't separate principles from predilections. Or if they do, their principles are disordered, as is the case with, say, a New England Catholic Democrat, who doesn't 'like' or 'agree with' same-sex marriage, contraception and abortion, but nonetheless think liberty and equality are overriding principles; they forget that life -- especially procreating and preserving it -- is the highest civil principle and isn't first arbitrarily.
written by Mary, May 10, 2013
It is possible to accept that the state can define marriage -- insofar as this means a particular legal recognition entitling those with the status to particular benefits. However, the comment by DS ignores the Canadian experience. Same-sex marriage has been legal for some years in Canada. Christians who consider homosexual conduct a sin can no longer occupy the office of marriage commissioner (officiating at civil marriages) in most provinces. Christians opposing same-sex marriage cannot refuse (under substantial penalty of law) to rent bed and breakfast rooms to same-sex couples or to refuse to print material for gay organizations; Catholic schools cannot refuse to allow same-sex couples to attend their proms or forbid "gay/straight" alliance clubs in some provinces (mandated by legislation). An application by an evangelical university (private) to establish a law school has been widely attacked on the basis that it discriminates against homosexuals because of its covenant that condemns same-sex relationships. Yes, believe me, the problem with same-sex marriage is not the legal status. It is the persecution, discrimination and exclusion for orthodox Christians that follows. Dr. Beckwith has it correctly, based not on theory, but on Canadian lived experience.
written by Rosemary, May 10, 2013
Why are so many interested in what the State thinks and does?
We Christians should be more concerned with our own behavior.
It seems to me that the increasingly empty pews should be the focus of our concern.
That was the concern of Christ. He was not interested much in what Caesar was up to.
written by Tony, May 10, 2013
Because, Rosemary, we live in the state. It is our responsibility to advocate for just laws and against unjust laws. Unjust laws help to vitiate the people. It's a lack of charity to turn other people's cheeks when they are wronged.
written by Tony, May 10, 2013
To DS: divorce involves a degradation of marriage, not its undefining. It is fascinating to note that progressives in the late nineteenth century formed the Divorce Reform League, to curb the divorce rate, which was peaking at about ten percent (!). Want to know where the current "progressives" will be proceeding next? Just ask what is unnatural, what expresses a deep loathing of simple ordinary human nature and common sense.
written by Janet Baker, May 12, 2013
"Why are so many interested in what the State thinks and does?" and 'Christ was not interested in what Ceasar was up to.' This is not the traditional teaching of the Catholic church, whose apostles interpreted Christ's directive to feed His sheep as caring for them in all ways, so that they set up the Catholic state. That state provided health care and education to the flock, and the laws made it most possible to fulfill one's civic duty and get to heaven at the same time. That is the state we need now. I can hide in my house, but I cannot overcome the effects of abortion and sterile sex on the economy, and so I will not have a job and my family will be reduced to temptation in order to live. The Church has always taught that where we Catholics are in a majority in the place, we have a right to a Catholic state. Unfortunately, Vatican II waved away this right, but I take it as part of SSPX's struggle against the un-Catholic heresy of 'religious freedom' that they mean to reverse this corollary of that heavy misteaching. Pius XI said that the economics of the Catholic state (which contradict those of the protestant Free Market, and that is why they overthrew it originally) were indistinguishable from those of what he termed 'moderate socialism' and the context (it's in Quadragesimo ano) indicates moderation of profits where they begin to impact the common good (largely by taxes focused on immoderate concentration of ownership, and that's why they call it distributism, because the structure encourages wide distribution of ownership, not monopolization as in our system), support of wages where needed, health care, and education. We lived thus in the middle ages, and we lived well! We flock of Christ! Henry VIII's first official act after his fateful break was to privatize St. Barthalemew's, the oldest Catholic hospital in Britain, and can't you just see, the poor have been wandering around ever since asking, 'Do you know where I can get health care?' Two of my sons are still so wandering, and I have continual nightmares about it. We children of God and heirs of heaven deserve better than this! We need the Catholic state! Please give up that protestant idea that we live in a vacuum! And one more thing, think of the injustice toward God, displaced from the center of our human social lives! No other justice is possible where Christ is not called King, says Quas primas.

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