Involuntary Baptism

They’re still at it. I’m referring to the Cornerstone Baptist Church in Colorado Springs. They’ve probably learned that it really works. How else to explain its practices. We examined its practices in 1993 and 16 years later it’s still going strong. It’s called involuntary baptism.

In 1993 the Cornerstone Baptist church advertised a kids’ carnival that featured, among other things, a water fight, free balloons, squirt guns and candy. The carnival was obviously directing its advertising at children since most adults are not attracted to an event just because it has water fights, balloons and squirt guns. Unadvertised, but nonetheless a big part of the festivities, was a spontaneous (as far as the kids were concerned) baptism. Reports suggest that the pastor encouraged the carnival attendees to become baptized by telling them that without the baptism they could be killed by bee stings. If he was right, those accepting the invitation were permanently inoculated against that particular peril. Right or wrong, most children would probably find that appealing since any inoculation one can obtain without being given a shot seems like a very good kind of inoculation indeed.

Baptism in carnival like surroundings was not the only type of surprise baptism engaged in by the church. In at least one case it was sued by a parent whose child had not gone to the carnival but had gone to the church with two women from the church. Aware of the church’s tendency to surprise young attendees with baptism, Audrey Ausgotharp told the two women that she did not want the children to come home baptized. As it turned out, the church did not have a hair dryer. When the children came home their hair was wet. Their mother figured out instantly that either they’d been given a shampoo or they’d been baptized. Given Cornerstone’s reputation she put the notion of a shampooing out of mind and settled on baptism. She was right and righteously angry.

When the two women who had picked the children up were confronted they were apologetic and said the children had been baptized by mistake. The Cornerstone Baptists were not the only denomination that increased the church rolls by involuntary baptism.

In 1996 it was reported that the Anchor Baptist Church in Woburn, Massachusetts had taken to the same practice. It wasn’t as much fun for a couple reasons. The first was that it violated all truth in advertising rules and the second was the actual event was preceded by a long and presumably predictably boring sermon. The Anchorfolk reportedly attracted hundreds of kids by promising pizza and basketball. The Anchormen, notwithstanding their love of the Lord, were not infected by the truth in advertising bug. There was, as it turned out, neither pizza nor basketball. Instead of pizza there was a sermon and instead of basketball, swimming-sort of. The swimming was a full body immersion and to participate the children had to disrobe and put on church garb. That is, of course, history, having taken place in 1996. Who’d have thought that a practice from the dark ages of 1996 would still be in vogue today? The answer is it is.

In early May it was reported that representatives of the Cornerstone Church tried to lure a seventh-grader at Russell Middle School in Colorado Springs into a van. Most children lured into vans face consequences far more drastic than a simple hair washing and promise of salvation. The 7th grader refused to enter the van and upon learning of the encounter, the school principle cautioned parents about the threat and reminded them to remind their children not to talk to strangers, even if carrying bibles. According to reports church members have also been approaching children on the playground and outside the school grounds preaching the bible. Van luring is not the church’s only method of capturing souls. The carnival is still a favorite.

On May 1 the carnival was again announced but before the attendees could do the fun stuff they were required to be baptized by total immersion. Whether the very tangible benefit of immunity from bee stings was offered, in addition to the promise of salvation, was not stated. Asked about the practice, assistant pastor Ford Glover said he would have no comment. Dan Irwin, an associate pastor said: “No one can show me one passage in the Bible where it says parental permission is required before a child is baptized.” Pastor Dean Miller of the church says the church is merely pursuing the Bible’s “great commission” to baptize lots of people.

On Cornerstone Church’s home page there is a pretty picture of clouds and blue sky. Across the sky in block letters is written “Salvation” and beneath that in cursive, “Easy As 1. 2.. 3…” One probably stands for the carnival, 2 for baptism and 3 for bee sting immunity. Getting 1 and 3 for free would seem to make 2 no big deal. It’s hard to understand why parents object.

CHRISTOPHER BRAUCHLI is a lawyer in Boulder, Colorado. He can be emailed at brauchli.56@post.harvard.edu.



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