ASTORIA, Ore. — Shortly after Portland residents were shocked to find their community infested with a collection of evangelicals attempting to convert children as young as five years old, residents of Astoria were horrified to learn that a local religious group has been targeting children as young as five days old for conversion through a ritualistic bath known as “baptism.”
In the past six months, St. Peter Lutheran Church, a fundamentalist sect of the Catholic religion, has performed more than three of these baptisms, a ceremony involving washing a person in water, which adherents claim can turn that person into a Christian by taking away his “sins” and making him into the child of a Christian god. According to Rev. James Schroeder, the congregation’s leader, Jesus invented baptism in Matthew 28, which Lutherans believe is part of the Bible. Schroeder, who boasts of baptizing more than a dozen infants in recent years, insists that baptizing children who obviously don’t understand what’s happening still transforms them into Christians.
Many community leaders, however, have taken offense to this practice and consider it a form of child abuse. Daphne Jacobson, president of Oregonians for Kids Because Science, organized a community forum to raise awareness of this threat to Astoria’s children after a subsequently blocked Facebook friend liked a photograph of a recent infant baptism at St. Peter Lutheran Church.
“As a parent,” Jacobson said, “I find it unconscionable that this group of talking snake worshippers is literally forcing their superstitions on these helpless children, who have no way of defending themselves from these unsolicited water attacks. I mean, if some stranger grabbed your daughter and started spraying her with a fire hose, the police would throw him in jail. But if that guy does the same thing while wearing a magic robe and shouting some medieval words about the father, sun, and holy spirit, then it’s somehow OK?”
When reached for comment, Schroeder insisted that he has only baptized children whose parents requested it. And that Christians have been baptizing babies for pretty much their entire history. And that what they’re doing shouldn’t be surprising since pretty much every religion in the world emphasizes raising children to embrace the ceremonies and teachings of that religion.
Forcibly Converting the Vulnerable
Jacobson, however, maintains that Schroeder and his followers are forcibly converting the community’s most vulnerable. “We all agree that responsible parents should wait until a child is seven or eight years old before letting them pick their gender. Why can’t we agree that children should have to wait at least that long to pick whichever religion they’ll eventually leave for Buddhism during their junior year of college? Besides, imagine how psychologically damaging it’s going to be when these kids find out that their pastor stood up in front of the congregation and said they were sinners who deserved to be condemned, or even worse, when he said that God sent Jesus to be condemned in their place and to win eternal life for them and to pour out His unconditional, unyielding, unlimited, inextinguishable love and mercy and forgiveness and favor upon them in those baptismal waters. What kind of a monster could say that to a little child?”
The purpose of the community forum, which meets this Tuesday at First Unitarian Universalist Church, is to help Astoria residents recognize the warning signs of infant baptism. Until the meeting, Jacobson suggests that the three best ways to protect your youth from baptismal assaults are keeping them at least 500 yards away from the sanctuaries of most Christian congregations, avoiding lakes and rivers on Sunday mornings, and sarcastically worshipping flying spaghetti monsters on social networking websites.
She also suggests community members can help those who have already been hurt. “If you encounter any children who might have been victims of infant baptism,” she advises, “don’t hesitate to share a warm smile, give them a Darwin fish, and let them know that things will get better, at least until they’re dead and the only thing awaiting them is worms devouring and excreting their decomposing flesh because there’s no such thing as heaven. I mean, we have a real opportunity to be a voice of hope for the kids here.”
Hans Fiene is a Lutheran pastor in Illinois and the creator of Lutheran Satire, a series of comical videos intended to teach the Lutheran faith.