Baptism, or the Anniversary of my Arranged Marriage

by Alisa

Twenty-two years ago this month, I sat in my bishop’s office with my parents for my baptism interview. My bishop asked me, “Do you feel you’re ready to be forgiven of your sins and be baptised?” I sat confused at the question, and then, a little lightheartedly, told him, “Well, I’m still seven, so I don’t think I have any sins to be forgiven of.”

I giggled a little as I gave him my answer, and my parents responded in shock at my apparent mockery of the interview. I guess I don’t blame them. They were the ones who held weekly FHE and family council, who gathered us for gospel instruction and scripture reading every single day. They thought they’d prepared me well to answer the bishop’s questions. They’d even taught me to pray for forgiveness of my sins since I was three years old (for practice, my dad said). But honestly, I was confused, and my giggles were my attempt to cover up the immense awkwardness I felt at being interviewed so seriously for something I didn’t understand and wouldn’t have thought to ask for if left on my own.

I couldn’t understand why I was getting my sins washed away when I’d also been told that I hadn’t begun to become accountable for my sins. To my almost eight-year-old mind, this seemed a strange paradox. I was eventually baptised three weeks after I turned eight in a stake primary baptism, but I wonder what I could have done in those three weeks to put my soul in need of such infinite redemption requiring immediate absolution. What I did understand was the social aspect of the ordinance: My best friend was also baptised that day, and honestly, that’s what I was most excited about. That and the fact that I got a new dress and got to eat out with my family, which definitely signified a special occasion.

I don’t think baptism of children of record is something we spend a lot of time thinking about. Usually it’s a happy family occasion, and it’s not my intention to downplay that rewarding family experience by bringing up my questions and concerns with the practice. But it’s something that as an adult I still have a lot of confusion about. We often speak of baptism necessarily following faith and repentance, which I can completely understand for a person who is making the choice with more life experience and knowledge. But what about primary-aged children? What about those who just are beginning to be accountable? Why are they baptised, what sins are keeping them out of the Kingdom, and what should be the rhetoric surrounding their baptisms?

In attending my niece’s primary baptism last week, I listened closely to the reasons given for baptism and heard they were 1) to follow Jesus’ example, and 2) to become clean. The second reason implies that little children are in fact not clean, which is a concept I still have a hard time reconciling with many scriptures including the 2nd Article of Faith.

In junior primary, we have children sing this song in preparation for their baptisms:

I know when I am baptized my wrongs are washed away,
and I can be forgiven and improve myself each day.
I want my life to be as clean as earth right after rain.
I want to be the best I can and live with God again.

I know a child can do wrong (and know s/he is doing wrong) before age eight. But my understanding was that the atonement gave them an automatic pass. So when we speak of barely eight year olds getting their sins washed away, I’m wondering, where do those sins come from?

We sometimes emphasize or even pride ourselves on rejecting the concept of original sin, or the need to redeemed merely by entering into mortality. But to me, saying each eight year old – who has been declared sinnless and/or non-accountable until that age – is in immediate need of similar redemption isn’t too far off. We’ve just transferred the date of the onset of original sin from automatic-at-birth to automatic-at-eight.

Perhaps I take baptism way too literally. But to me it is an important decision that I wish were left to those who were more able to understand the life-long implications. I feel baptism is like a marriage, choosing to become a member of the Church – the bride of Christ – and take His name upon ourselves and enter into a covenant that He’ll share what he has with us as we strive to be as deserving as we can. It’s just that we often talk about how disgraceful it is for other churches to have their children enter into this metaphorical marriage as babies or toddlers. Yet I feel that for eight year olds, it’s still very much an arranged marriage, proposed and implimented by the adults surrounding the child. The child may understand s/he is getting baptised, but might not have gone seeking that relationship, at that age, without the conditioning and expectations of their parents and teachers that they begin to experience from the time they are three-year-old Sunbeams.

What do you think of baptizing children at eight years old? Do you think our official lessons and materials – whether adapted for children or adults – adequately address the reasons for the baptisms of children of record? Should there be a difference between the preparation of a child versus that of an adult for baptism, or a difference in how we reflect on that experience in accordance with first principles and ordinances?

For those of you who were raised as children in the Church and baptised at eight, what are your thoughts about when you made the covenant of baptism? How do you look at it now?

Alisa

Alisa is a professional adult educator and corporate manager who enjoys spending time with her husband and son.

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44 Responses

  1. I’m fluffing myself up like a chickadee in winter, insulating against calls for my damnation. Ok, ready. I was just called as the CTR 7 teacher. Presumably, I’m supposed to prepare the children for baptism/convince them to be baptized. The hitch is, I don’t really care much one way or the other. I was definitely herded into my own baptism (kind of like I was herded into every other gospel ordinance), and had more or less no idea what was going on. Except that I knew I needed to start feeling guiltier for any juvenile misdeeds because I was no longer on a practice run. Part of it’s probably just a personality thing- I’m not much for ritual. But I really wish I’d known what I was getting into at each ordinance threshold and been able to consciously decide whether or not to do it. I’m not sure if an eight year old can understand the implications of baptism and make a conscious choice (other than the choice to please his or her parents). So, if one of the kids I’m teaching in primary wants to wait until she’s ready to make a willful commitment at 10, 15, or 20, that’s fine by me. But there’s no way the parents would allow that.

  2. G says:

    excellent post alisa

  3. gst says:

    Moniker Challenged: I think you should let the bishop know your feelings on the subject. I think it’s entirely appropriate for parents, teachers, and leaders to instill in children a desire to covenant with the Lord through baptism. And if, as a teacher of 7 year-olds, you’re not with the program, you should be up-front about it.

  4. gst says:

    Also, I don’t think I’m alone in finding the comparison to arranged marriages offensive.

  5. esodhiambo says:

    MC–I actually do know a number of families that both “allow that” and have it as standard practice. It seems like a parental issue to me.

    Certainly, children and adults can receive customized instruction regarding baptism. It is too bad the talks at the baptism you recently attended only mentioned 2 reasons for baptism, but again, that one person’s talk ought not to be held as indicative of what children are taught. If I had given the talk, I likely would have focused on following Christs’ example and taking on the name of Christ. That’s just my personal preference.

    I understand what you’re talking about with repentance and 8 year olds (although the arranged marriage thing is a bit dramatic–it’s not like you were doomed–you are free to declare yourself baptism free at any time), but I think it entirely appropriate that children be taught they CAN repent and how to repent because, frankly, they will likely need to in their lifetimes.

    Is it appropriate to ask a child to make a commitment about being a part of a Church at age 8? Why not? 8 year olds can have spiritual experiences. Do they REALIZE the implications of their commitment at age 8? Probably not the realities of visiting teaching forever and getting involved in an church that assigns you to a specific congregation. But they have an out. At any point in their life that they decide the Church is not “right” or not for them, they can cease participation, so what is the big deal?

    Like I said, though, I am totally fine with families or individuals not baptizing at 8 if they don’t feel it is right. But I think your beef should be with your parents, not “the Church.”

    Personally, I think the preparation of adult converts is often incomplete, and I think that is a bigger issue. Sometimes adult converts offend family members when they join and burn other bridges; should they decide 3 years down the road that they were hoodw-inked into membership, I think they have it much harder.

  6. mb says:

    As an 8 year old I was pretty clear on the notion that baptism was a choice (my parents were big on agency) to make a formal promise to follow the teachings of Jesus. I had heard about baptism cleansing us of sin, but I also understood that as a 7 year old who was not old enough to be accountable, that didn’t apply to me. My understanding was more along the lines of Alma’s words in Mosiah 18. I had made a decision that I wanted to make a commitment to do the things Jesus taught. So for me, that’s what my baptism was about.

    I also teach the 7 year olds in Primary. We talk a about baptism being a choice when it’s brought up. There is only one lesson in the manual this year that talks about baptism. It focuses on the decision to follow Jesus and his teachings and identifies baptism as a covenant to do so. There is absolutely no mention of sins being washed away in it.

    Last year’s manual had a lesson on the age of accountability. It was very clear about not having sins to repent of when you are under age 8. So I think the manuals, though in need of some updating in general, are not the source of the errors.

    I think your bishop was confused. And I agree, that primary song is not helpful.

    Admittedly, there are children who see baptism as a social convention, a generally good thing, or a treat, and take that step without thinking hard about what they are doing. But that is avoidable with conscious parents and teachers who know how to teach wisely and allow agency.

    It is good for me also to understand that the sacrament is a renewal of my baptismal covenants. It is not a renewal of the covenant as I understood it as an 8 year old. It is an opportunity to refine my commitment honestly with God each week according to my increased understanding of it. (akin to Acts 19) I don’t feel bound to my 8 year old version of that covenant. I can regularly make it newer and better.

    I’m sorry you felt that you made that step unprepared or because it was expected. Baptism shouldn’t be that way and there are repercussions for thoughtful children later on which you articulate well. But, as I said, thoughtful parents and teachers who understand agency and baptism can do much to prevent setting children up for that.

  7. Relax, it’s not like I was planning on teaching human sacrifice and showing adult films on Sundays. I’m hoping to be able to teach them a little something about what baptism means so they can be a little more prepared to decide, if at all possible. Focusing, as esodhiambo mentioned, on committing to follow Christ. This Sunday we’ll be talking about how everyone is a Child of God and should be treated accordingly. Radical, I know.

  8. Mommie Dearest says:

    I recently witnessed the baptism of an 8 year old relative, the sweetest child ever. In one of the talks at the service there was a big deal made over the fact that “now that you can sin, you need the forgiveness that you can get from your baptism and by partaking the sacrament.” It was more than slightly ridiculous to speak of this innocent child as being sinful, it marred an otherwise happy event.

    I thought about this for a long time afterward and so far, have reached one conclusion. Age 8 is appropriate for baptism not because we are sinful at that age, but because we are ready to begin to learn about repentance in reality, in which it is really consequential. Baptism is a beginning, an entry, and for children who are innocent of any egregious sin, it shouldn’t be about being sinful, but rather embarking on their first learn-by-doing experiences with repentance. Repentance is such a beautiful thing, powered by the atonement, and I wish so much that I had been able to learn about it right after baptism.

    I remember driving home after my own baptism at age 8 and having an older sibling pick a fight with me, then happily announce “Now you’re not spotless.”

    Sometimes I am amazed at how people in possession of the fulness of the gospel can be so clueless.

  9. Beatrice says:

    Good post. You bring up some interesting insights. What I wonder about is the strict age idea of becoming accountable. Is it written in the cosmos that you go to bed as a 7-year-old who is not accountable and magically wake up the next morning as an accountable 8-year-old? Obviously, from birth until 8, children gradually are becoming more accountable for their own actions. During this time period actions become more intentional and children should be taught to control their actions and take responsibility for their actions. It is interesting that there is this disconnect between doctrinal ideas of accountability and the gradual development of accountability.

  10. Alisa says:

    MC, it’s definitely a call we have to make when a calling is extended to us – do we fill it to the best of our ability or do we go beyond that an say things against our own conscience? Having taught primary for several years, I know every lesson requires the teacher to bare testimony of whatever was taught in the lesson. While the lessons are simple, it’s not a guarantee that anyone in primary will be able to bare the exact same, perfectly correlated testimony, on each topic at the time it happens to be taught. Thanks for sharing your experience, and I wish you luck.

    gst and edsiambo, I realize that everyone takes their membership in the Church to a different level, and as I admit, I probably have always taken my membership in the Church on more of the serious side of the spectrum (and also very literally). Next to choosing whom I marry, I can hardly think of a more important decision than choosing what God, Gospel, and Church I am a part of. It seems more a part of me than the company I work at or even my group of friends – these have and will continue to change, but not my religion. My church – as I experience it – nearly seems embedded into my DNA. So for me, saying one could just up and leave at any time is a little cavalier. It would be like saying anyone could up and leave a marriage/family at any time. I realize that for others it may not be the same, but you’ll need to trust me that this is my experience, and joining the Church is a big deal in my mind (as would be leaving).

    Also, for the record, I don’t mean to offend anyone who has an arranged marriage. I know there are positives to those. But I do feel there are differences between being allowed to feel the urging to seek out religious truth on one’s own and join a Church/congregation and having one set up for you to join as a child, just as chosing one’s marriage partner can be done in adulthood or, in some cultures, be determined from a young age. There are plusses and minuses to both. And I definitely want to leave the conversation open to those who have had positive experiences with baptism at eight to share those experiences as well.

  11. gst says:

    Alisa, so you agree that the comparison to arranged marriage was offensive, but only because it might offend those who’ve had good experiences with arranged marriage! Astonishing.

  12. mr.mraynes says:

    Alisa, I love your response to your bishop at such a young age! I hope my kids have the same

  13. mr.mraynes says:

    clear-headed smarts and confidence you did (and do).

  14. Alisa says:

    gst, I suppose I don’t see what is offensive about the marriage analogy with Christ as the bridegroom. It’s used in the scriptures and by the Savior himself, speaking in a time a culture that definitely knew and frequently incorporated arranged marriages. I could only assume you thought I was saying arranged marriages were inherently bad. What I am saying is that they’re different.

    And I think baptism as a child is also different than as an adult.

  15. Alisa says:

    mb, those are great insights into the current primary manuals, and it sounds like to me they are more on target with a message that aligns with the doctrine.

    Do you think this message gets incorporated into our lessons/manuals as adults? In Gospel Doctrine this last year, we had a lesson on first principles and ordinances. In my ward, there haven’t been any new converts for years. Many of us were raised in the Church. I sat wondering how many of us could seriously see the application of these first principles (faith and repentance) before we participated in the first ordinances since we’d never had the chance to know sin before it took place. It made me wonder if really there should be two different ways of talking about baptism for two different sets of cirumstances.

  16. Alisa says:

    Beatrice – I think you articulate really well a strange dichotomy that leadds to my confusion. I agree that I think accountability sinks in over time and over a child’s years. Yet our doctrine is so black and white about the age of accountability. For instance, even if a child at seven can be accountable for a sin psychologically, if that child passed away, there would be no need to do that child’s temple work. Yet, I would assume the temple work would be done for a child who passed at eight years old and a few days.

    I suppose it’s easier to draw a definitive line, but it is tricky because it’s an issue of gradual development.

  17. Alisa says:

    Mommie Dearest, this really is the kind of rhetoric/approach that I’m most comfortable with when I think about kids getting baptised at eight. It’s more of an inivitation to begin forming a relationship with Jesus that they’ll use through the rest of their lives, whether or not they need it at exactly that time. I guess I don’t see a lot of outward acklowledgement in the Church or in our lessons that this is actually the case, however, just the same lessons about sins being washed away. And it wasn’t my understanding as I moved forward since my baptism. I felt locked in and, as another commenter pointed out, a little bound to follow with exactness or be doomed.

    I love what you say about repentance being a beautiful thing.

  18. Zenaida says:

    When I was 7, I was excited for baptism because, that’s what you did, and I was always wanting to take the next steps as soon as I could. I relished rites of passage, and eagerly awaited the next one so I could be more like my parents, more adult. I think that was what I got most out of baptism. Ready to take that step just like all of my friends. I also was so glad to be washed clean. I was a tantrum thrower, and felt terribly guilty about it. I was also afraid of it, because now Satan could tempt me. I was definitely scared of that. And, I built up such an expectation of what it was going to be like, which of course it wasn’t anything like.

  19. SilverRain says:

    I think that it is easy to confuse the doctrine of baptism with the cultural take on baptism.

    The cultural approach to baptism of 8-year-olds is much as described here, but I think many of us miss the boat when it comes to understanding baptism. (Which is not surprising, as gospel learning is a process for all of us.)

    First, there is no support for the belief that a person’s 8th birthday is somehow a magic line in the sand: this side, you’re clean, that side you’re not. Some people may understand what they are doing at 8, some may not. The reasons for that are as varied as the individual person. For some, it could be that their parents don’t understand and therefore are unsuccessful at teaching. For others, their minds may not have been developed enough at 8.

    Whatever the case, it is a spurious argument to claim that 8-year-olds aren’t capable of understanding what they are doing. I fully understood that I was making a covenant with God to follow in His Son’s path, to be a disciple. Granted, I did not understand the scope of that commitment, but that is why covenants are made, to give us strength to overcome the unexpected distractions. No one ever knows what they are getting into when they make any decision affecting the future.

    Eight-year-olds don’t need to repent, not because they don’t do things that turn them away from God (any parent knows the lie to that) but because Christ’s Atonement covers their mistakes without the commitment to follow Him. That is true for the mentally incapable, and those who are not presented with the choice to follow Him as well.

    There is a wonderful passage of scripture on this subject which I’m sure most of you have read in Moroni 12. It answers most of these questions quite plainly. It discusses the notion of accountability for baptism. It is a policy that the minimum age for baptism is set at eight years old, not a doctrine.

  20. SilverRain says:

    Sorry, I meant Moroni 8, verse 12.

  21. gina says:

    I don’t think likening child baptism to an arranged marriage is offensive at all, or really all that far off base for that matter. It’s not just in the LDS church, though; the same comparison could be made for any child born into a religious family regardless of particular affiliation. I think there are VERY few 8 year olds who have the capacity to choose thoughtfully for themselves to follow a religion, ESPECIALLY if they’ve been taught to follow a particular one from birth. Can you imagine an 8-year old saying to his/her mother and father, “you know, I don’t think i’ll be baptized into your church. thanks, though.” It’s absurd. I was baptized (not in the LDS church) when I was 13 and even then, I don’t know that I took as seriously as I should the gravity of what I was taking upon myself in so doing. I chose for myself, though, as my family is not religious. I (and most mainstream Christians, I think) don’t believe that baptism and repentance are connected though. When I agreed to be baptized, I did so as a profession of my faith and a commitment to follow Christ. Now, I think differently about what exactly that means 10 years later, but I still see baptism in that way.

  22. Alisa says:

    SilverRain, I too think it’s helpful to sift out culture from doctrine in regards to this question. Do you think “baptism by immersion for the remission of sins” is a doctrine, or a cultural practice only? Or a doctrine only applying to some (those baptised as adults) and not others (those baptised as children)? Or is there a place doctrinally that excludes children from this reason but still urges them toward baptism at this age?

    For example, could the reasoning in Mosiah about baptism (mourn with those who mourn, etc.) necessarily trump the reason given in the 4th Article of Faith and mean that remission of sins is only optional or secondary or lower down the list of reasons and that it’s OK to baptise kids as soon as they begin to show that they are willing to follow Christ in this way by providing these services to their fellow people?

    I also agree age of eight is a minimum. I wonder how many of our readers see that active children of record often wait until they are much older, however. Anyone?

  23. Kaimi says:

    Baptism at age 8 is extremely important, and this is why Jesus set an example by . . .

    Oh, wait.

  24. Jessawhy says:

    This is a really interesting thread to me because my oldest son is about to turn 8 this year.
    I mentioned that he could get baptized when he turns 8, and he quickly reported that he didn’t want to.
    I was a little surprised.
    But, I guess we just have a lot of teaching to do.
    Also, Jaxon is very socially immature and perhaps really isn’t cognitively ready for baptism at this age anyway.
    I certainly won’t force him into it, but I kind of wonder if my husband will . . .
    I guess we’ll see as July gets closer.

    Thanks for this post.

  25. SilverRain says:

    Baptism by immersion for the remission of sins is unequivocally doctrinal, with plenty of scripture to back it up.

    I have seen children of active members occasionally wait to be baptized. I think most children are ready to be baptized at eight, if the parents have been teaching them the principle from the beginning.

    I do have to correct something I said. It is doctrinal to be baptized at eight, as in D&C 68:27. I was wrong to say otherwise. That being said, I think there are rare cases when it may not be appropriate (such as without approval of one parent, if the child isn’t ready, etc.) and I believe that is the practice in the Church. It places a great burden on parents to prepare their children with the necessary maturity to make such a decision.

    As for your other question, “mourning with those who mourn”, making the baptismal covenant, and repentance are all HOW a person is cleansed of sin. It’s like I was trying to say before, it is not a magic wand of cleansing. Baptism is a outward symbol of a commitment (covenant) to inward change. The inward change is the process of being cleansed and sanctified, which is why baptism without receiving the gift of the Holy Ghost does not effect the necessary change. One must submit to the influence of the Holy Ghost to be sanctified. Baptism is the gateway to a long path of righteous living. If you step through the gateway but hover around the entrance, one will never enjoy the full blessings of baptism.

  26. matt b says:

    Baptism is initiation into what Paul calls the Body of Christ, the community of believers, which is why it is in imitation of Christ’s death and resurrection, and why it is spoken of in relation to sin and repentance. When one is baptized one is participating in the atonement, which redeems from the version of original sin that Mormons do accept – the death ushered into the world by the fall. But one is also joining a community – and that’s why the social aspect you discuss is critical. It’s supposed to be shared, because it is as binding upon those in the community as it is upon the one being baptized; it is for us to accept and welcome and continue to teach the new Christian.

  27. jks says:

    I remember my baptism. That is why I think it is great to wait until 8.
    Did I fully understand sin & repentance? No. I am still working on that. Baptism started a process of wanting to Come Unto Christ. It was a commitment.
    Now that I have four children I still feel like that. It felt weird with my first. I wanted her to understand more I guess. However, now that I see more of the stages of childhood in front of me I think 8 is a wonderful age for baptism.

  28. mb says:

    Alisa,
    Yes. I’ve known a number of children who are actively engaged in church who chose to wait and were not baptized when they turned 8. The majority do not wait, but some do. I don’t know all the reasons for all of them but the reasons I knew about were varied; one feeling like she wanted to do their own thing and not follow the crowd, a couple with developmental delays, others uncomfortable with water, some feeling shy, some waiting for something else that they are anticipating to happen first, a couple of others feeling unready to make a commitment.

    I appreciate the parents who don’t panic and pressure in those situations. The wait times varied from 6 months to 4 years in the children I’ve known.

  29. mw says:

    i think your analogy is very clever. that said, i understand how there are people out there who may be offended.

    one could interpret your position as being baptism of 8 year old children is bad because the are forced by their families into making religious commitments they may not understand, which is similar to arranged marriage which is bad because young people (sometimes children) are forced into relationships they wouldn’t under other circumstances enter into.

    while i am sure you didn’t intend your piece to be read as some kind of blanket statement about arranged marriage, one could easily infer that.

    but to the real substance of your post, baptism.

    like most other lifetime members i got baptized at 8. i don’t really remember anything about the actual ritual, but i do remember many people coming to support me that day. i also remember feeling proud when, the sunday after, the bishop called me to the stand and introduced me as the newest member of the ward.

    it is the only time i can recall in my church experience (prior to going to university) that i was recongnized in front of the congregation. in that moment i was not just some kid, but a member of a community. i think the value of this acknowledgment, especially for girls who tend to receive less recognition in church, is really important.

    childhood feelings of recognition notwithstanding, in the last few years i have struggled with concerns related to childhood baptism. it seems kind of ridiculous that at 8 we make commitments we don’t even understand.

    where did the idea that we should baptize kids at 8 even come from? (i’ll look it up but if any one knows….)

  30. Sibyl Vane says:

    What bothers me more than the baptism is that one’s records are put into the church’s system upon the occurance of the baptism. To essentially force one to be a part of a religion via claiming them as a member and keeping their “records” which one may have no interest in when they reach an age at which one can full consider the consequences of their choices seems to me to be a immoral practice. If there were some form that one signed when one turned eighteen to verify that they did, indeed, want to belong to this church and have their “records” a part of it then it the whole matter would seem a little bit more fair than the current set-up.

  31. Sterling Fluharty says:

    Zenaida: Did you notice after your baptism that certain bad behaviors, like your tantrums, suddenly felt like they were “temptations”? D&C 29:47 teaches that power is “given unto Satan to tempt little children” when they turn eight. I guess we don’t talk much about who gives him that power and what the apparent increase in temptation must feel like for young children.

    For me, receiving the Gift of the Holy Ghost was the most memorably thing about my baptism. As a little child, I knew that he could visit me but he wasn’t allowed to stay. Gaining the right to his constant companionship made my baptism totally worth it. So if I felt at that tender age like I was becoming anybody’s eternal companion, it was the Holy Ghost and not Jesus.

  32. Kelly Ann says:

    Thank you Alisa for this post. It raises a lot of issues which I am still processing as well as makes me reflect on my own baptism at the age of 8.

    Specifically, that I felt by having to wait four weeks till the end of the month for the stake baptism, that I was in dire jeopardy if I died. The age line is a very strange thing indeed. Also, that a few people joked I must have had a lot of sins since I had to be dunked four times (my hair floated up, my foot then shot up, the prayer was incorrect, and then it was all good).

    However, what really strikes me is the memory of a kid in my ward a few years younger than me who waited till he was 11 or 12 to be baptized. As a teenager, I remember a few comments that his sins would be on the heads of his parents for not pushing baptism harder.

    That concept really bothers me the most (although I am stirring on all this discussion and will maybe comment more later).

  33. CatherineWO says:

    I have never believed that eight-year-old children were baptized for the “remission of sins” since they have none. (You were a very knowledgable seven-year-old, Alisa.) We made sure that at the baptisms of our own children no one brought up the idea that they needed to repent at that age. (Our children were all baptized in small wards where there were no other children being baptized at the same time.)
    I see the baptism of children as more of an official entrance into the community of Christ, a rite of passage. The actual commitments are made each week with the partaking of the sacrament and understanding of those commitments grows with the child, i.e. “line upon line.”
    So I’m not opposed to baptism at the age of eight if the child has been raised in an LDS home. It does bother me when I see Primary leaders and others push to have children of inactive parents baptized at this age after just a few quick missionary lessons, though there are exceptions to that to (like my husband, who was a very self-directed child who wanted to be baptized, and has remained active all these many years, despite his family’s ambivilance).

  34. John Remy says:

    As someone who focused on ritual in my graduate study of religion, I find the comparison to arranged marriage very apt.

    On a personal note, both of our children have admitted, after the fact, that they didn’t believe going into the interview, but felt incredible pressure from leaders and family to be baptized. My son actually mentioned these concerns, and the Bishop dismissed them (in a well-intentioned way), that since he could answer the knowledge questions, he also believed and not to worry.

    I think it is ridiculous, even cruel, to expect 8-year-old children to make a lifetime (eternal!) commitment, and to hold them to those covenants for the rest of their lives.

  35. John Remy says:

    Oops–I wrote my response when there were only a couple of comments, and only now saw the 30 other responses. Apologies for my disconnected comment, but thank you for the thoughtful post.

  36. SilverRain says:

    I get the feeling that most people don’t define repentance, let alone baptism, the way I do.

  37. EBrown says:

    Having read the comments here and on infant blessings, tell me again why Mormons condemn infant baptism? 😉

  38. D'Arcy says:

    Alisa,

    You’re one of the most brilliant people I know. And also the LEAST offensive person I know. I find this comparison valid as well as the concerns.

    Moniker Challenged I’d much rather have my children being taught by someone like you then by another member who would put undo pressure on my seven year old.

  39. Lacy says:

    I’m late to the thread, but thank you for this post! It’s something I’ve been thinking a lot about lately. I was raised in the church and baptized at 8. It actually was a great experience. One surrounded by good feelings and one I actually remember quite vividly.

    Something I hear frequently at other baptisms, though, is someone making reference to his/her baptism as something they don’t remember all that clearly, which is a shame.

    My oldest child isn’t even three, but already I worry about baptism for her. I’ve gone through a bit of a church crisis this past year and now wonder if 8 is just too young. Both my husband and I come from very traditional Mormon backgrounds. I posed the question: what if we decided not to have her baptized at eight? There are so many things wrong with that. First, the language: It’s not up to us to “have” anyone baptized, right?! But if she isn’t baptized at 8, both our families would have a complete hizzy fit. We’d totally be blamed as irresponsible parents. So is it really as free a choice as the rhetoric makes it sound?

    I know the 8-yr old thing is in the D&C. But does that make it a sin to wait then? Sigh.I just wish it were more common/less taboo to wait until adulthood. You know, like Jesus did.

    And I realize this comment is way too long by now, but just a word about your title: when I first read it, I thought it had more to do with the direction your life inevitably took after your baptism. You know, like how membership in this church can act as a (sometimes seemingly unstoppable) catalyst for every other event in your life: education, career, self-perception, marriage, family choices, etc, etc.

  40. velska says:

    We can always speculate, that eight is not old enough to make an informed choice. But looking at some alternatives, like 15, looks even less mature to me for a lot of kids.

    I guess the idea is, that we should teach the kids, and the kids need to be old enough to be able to grasp some basics, so they’ll at least have an embarrassing interview to reminisce about. And the idea, that you actually should be able to decide on your own.

    After all, the age of baptism is not as important as that agency bit that it teaches. That’s my speculation, having five grown up kids.

  41. SilverRain says:

    Over the weekend, I had another thought on this topic as I was thinking it over. It seems to me that there are two parts to this question which create a tension: whether or not a person is ready for baptism, and whether or not a parent should teach a child to be baptized at eight, or if that is a form of undue social pressure or brainwashing (though that term wasn’t used.)

    As far as brainwashing/social pressure goes, one could argue that any standard of behavior is “brainwashing” or “social pressure”. Inarguably, some standard of social pressure is necessary. We wouldn’t want people running around killing people, for example, and if social pressure can stop that it’s all to the good. Therefore, the question is not whether or not a parent and/or society should pressure a child to behave a certain way, but whether or not the pressure is appropriate for that particular behavior.

    I think that question can be answered by addressing baptism itself, and the requirements for baptism (the other half of the question). I agree that many people view baptism as a social graduation, and not for what it truly is: a serious covenant. D&C actually addresses what ought to occur before baptism in Section 20, vs. 68-71, which I think clears up the doctrinal answer to this question. (Note: vs. 70 has more to do with infant blessing than baptism.)

    Summed up, those verses give several requirements to baptism.
    The person must be taught the doctrine.The person must demonstrate understanding of the doctrine by living it.The person must be at least eight years old.The person must be capable of repentance.
    I think that D&C 68 addresses the parents’ responsibility to their children in meeting the first of these requirements. Parents and church leaders than have to judge the last three. Those who make the decision to baptize a person will have to account to God for that judgment, whether the person is a child of eight or an adult investigator.

  42. Alisa says:

    Sorry to have disappeared for a few days – about to have a baby and have some other things up on the priority list while getting ready for that. I just wanted to say I’ve been following these comments and am so happy to read all your thoughtful responses – both criticism and praise – of the practice of baptising at eight. Thank you to those who have thought about these questions I have and have shared your point of view on them. I’m still digesting this, and I appreciate those of you who have shared what you’ve thought about it as well.

    In reading the D&C link from SilverRain, it makes me wonder that if repentance is a requirement, then maybe we really should wait until a child feels like there’s something big enough to repent of before baptism takes place (and, in my own personal preference/point of view, original sin or anything along the lines of just being mortal and living in an imperfect world is not something that needs repenting of). I personally like to define repentance as re-thinking or re-considering one’s actions, not self-punishment (or transfered punishment to Jesus). It (repentance) requires some change in how one approaches her/his life philosophically, which corresponds to the change of heart I’d like to see take place in someone before making this covenant (the change of heart I wish I had the chance to experience first). Anyway, it definitely has me thinking of some new approaches or nuances to this question.

    Please, keep adding to the conversation if you think of anything else.

  43. SilverRain says:

    I agree with much of what you say, Alisa, except to add that parents are given eight years to prepare a child to understand and practice repentance. Interestingly, even secular sources outlining child development outline how eight-year-olds need their “parents to guide [them] this year, to talk about what is right and wrong as [they take] big steps to assert [themselves] in the world around [them]” and notice “the impact of personal behavior on others and may modify behavior as a result; realizes that others have a similar awareness.”

    Perhaps children do not understand repentance with all its pain and nuances, but a normal eight-year-old is able to self-evaluate and think of others. Perhaps this is why the Lord set the standard at eight years. The bottom line is that the Lord has said that eight-year-olds are capable of understanding repentance sufficient for baptism (barring some kind of mental illness.)

    I also think the Lord makes it clear in D&C 68 that parents will be accountable to God for how they teach their children, particularly in regards to the gospel.

  44. S says:

    Baptism for children of record (8 year olds) is not about the cleansing of their souls, and being washed clean of all the many sins they’ve committed. You are absolutely right that they haven’t yet committed any. It’s about giving them the new opportunity to fully partake of the atonement. Sometime, after they turn 8, they will sin, and will be held accountable for it. It may not happen for years, but it will happen. They will be ready and prepared to then repent, renew those covenants they made when they were 8, and be forgiven and clean again. Each week as they partake the sacrament, they do this.

    As for your whole opinion about them not being old enough to make such a commitment and decision, I also have an opinion about. Parents make decisions for their children all the time, everyday. What they will eat, what they will wear, where they go to school, who takes care of them, the list is endless. We are commanded as member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter day Saints, to baptize our children at the age of eight. The parents are choosing to follow that commandment, and teach their children and help them make that choice to get baptized. Do everything they can from the time they are born, to make sure that they will get baptized when 8. The parents take responsibility for that and make that decision and help their child make that commitment and keep that commandment.

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