Northwood Temple Academy, a Christian school in Fayetteville, North Carolina, baptized 100 students last week without telling parents what was happening.
While this would be beyond illegal in a public school, the fact that Northwood is a private religious institution hardly makes this any better. That’s because baptisms, for these families, are sacred. They’re big events. Parents are supposed to be present when their kids decide to take the plunge.
But the school just went ahead and dunked a bunch of kids in water for Jesus. Despite the symbolic meaning of the ritual, some parents weren’t thrilled that the school did this without their consent.
The Fayetteville Observer spoke to one mother who only found out what happened when she got a call from her daughter shortly after the event took place:
“My daughter calls me from the school and says, ‘Mama, can you bring me some dry clothes? I got baptized today.”
“I said, ‘WHAT?’”
The head of the school, Renee McLamb, apologized to parents via an email later that night. She said that students were involved in “Spiritual Emphasis Week,” which basically involved a few short chapel services. On Wednesday, the school had announced that baptisms would be taking place the following day:
When that moment arrived on Thursday morning, however, the three scheduled baptisms turned into 100.
In her apology email, McLamb claimed the other kids were just moved to be baptized and how could the Christian school say no to that?
But she said: “Truly, the Lord began to move this morning and we were so excited about what the Lord was doing. Several students had given their lives to the Lord during Spiritual Emphasis Week and they were scheduled to be baptized this morning. But the Spirit of the Lord moved and the invitation to accept the Lord and be baptized was given and the students just began to respond to the presence of the Lord.“
She continued: “I do understand that parents would desire to be a part of something so wonderful happening in the lives of their children, and so I apologize that we did not take that into consideration in that moment. I pray that at the end of the day we will all rejoice because God truly did a work in the lives of our students.“
“Presence of the Lord” is one hell of a euphemism to describe peer pressure…
While most parents didn’t seem to care, a few clearly took it personally:
She said three emails in response to her letter were from parents who were “upset because they missed it and wanted to be there.”
One parent was angry and said no apology would be accepted, and another parent was upset because they felt it “undid the baptism that had already taken place at their church.”
Don’t bother trying to parse the logic of the last parent. It makes about as much sense as claiming a hair dryer will undo your most recent baptism. Two baptisms don’t cancel each other out, even using Christian math.
Bottom line though: The school help a baptism event. Kids joined in when they saw their friends doing it. Many parents didn’t have the chance to see it. An event that everyone was supposed to appreciate became controversial.
While the whole thing may have been a (predictable) misunderstanding, it’s not surprising to see leaders at a religious school give absolutely no thought to what might be best for parents because they’re blinded by their own faith.
When students went to get baptized, administrators could have stopped them and said, “Not yet. We need a signed permission slip. Wait 24 hours and do it tomorrow.” But that was never going to happen because these people are obsessed with conversion counts. One baptism today is better than two tomorrow. Parents be damned.
This is routine behavior for church leaders, too. Anything that supposedly strengthens someone’s faith will always trump what’s actually best for that person. It’s the reason abstinence-only sex education is taught despite overwhelming evidence of how useless it is. It’s the reason Creationism is taught as fact despite all the science against it.
They’re not interested in what’s good for you. They only care about what’s good for the faith. Even when it comes to a ritual like baptism that both sides—parents and Christian leaders—would theoretically celebrate, the school still managed to create division where none existed because parents’ wishes weren’t a factor in their decision-making.
It won’t be the last time. Get used to it, parents.