The Baptism

“This is a travesty”, Joseph said with passion. Joseph always spoke with passion. What he lacked in height, he more than made up with his passion. Be it a conversation about movies or books, or discussing the future of a child’s education – Joseph always bought a lot of passion to his arguments.

He was sitting at the edge of his chair, leaning forward.

“It is just simply wrong to allow that family into the parish”, he boomed. “Father, I am sure you agree.”

Father Jeevan was a quiet man, almost the antithesis of Joseph. He seldom spoke and let the church committee run by consensus rather than fiat. His calm demeanor endeared him to his parishioners. Unlike other priests, Fr. Jeevan made them feel like it was their parish – that they ran it. It would be hard to guess the kind of person he was by looking at him. At full height, he stood at 6’5”. He was of stocky build – most of it muscle. He sported a thick, bushy beard that covered most of his face, leaving just his eyes and the top of his cheeks uncovered. On the pulpit, Fr. Jeevan had a booming voice, one that carried authority and confidence. But outside the pulpit, his voice seemed to lose all its power and he was generally very soft-spoken.

“I’d like to hear what everybody has to say before I take a decision”, he replied to Joseph. “Matthew, what are your thoughts? After all, they are your friends. You know them best.”

Matthew was standing at the window, blowing the smoke from his cigarette out so that he didn’t put the others to discomfort.

“What will he say?” Joseph boomed. “He knew about them all along but he never said a word. Bloody sinners! Corrupting the church!”

“They are quite nice people, actually”, Matthew shot back. “But then, according to you, only you are good. Everybody else is hurtling towards hell.”

“I never said anything of that sort”, Joseph defended himself. “I live by the laws of God. Yes, I want to go to heaven. I will do anything to get there.”

“Even hate?” asked Matthew. His voice was quiet, but his anger came through loud and clear.

“I don’t hate anyone. I just dislike people who do not keep God’s commandments. Is it wrong to dislike what someone else does? Don’t I have the right to like or dislike something?”

“And it’s not like he is saying anything wrong”, chipped in John. “Homosexuality is wrong. The church says so. The law says so.”

“Since when have the church and the law been the infallible”, Matthew asked. “With all due respects to you, father.”

Fr. Jeevan nodded dismissively, showing that he didn’t mind.

“The church and the government are made of people – just like you and me. Our prejudices overflow into these institutions.”

“How silly is that?” argued Joseph. “Both the church and the government are greater than us. How can one person influence it?”

“Not one person, but enough of people who think in the same manner can. Today, here in this room, both you and John believe that homosexuality is wrong. So your views percolate into the church.”

“Is it wrong to take the views of the majority?”

“No. I didn’t say it was. All I said was that the prejudices of individuals tend to creep into the policies of institutions.”

The air in the room was crackling with tension. Fr. Jeevan felt he should step in, but stayed quiet because while the people in the room debated the subject, he was carrying on the debate in his mind.

Amit and Charles had joined the parish a few years ago. When they had come and met him, he had welcomed them into the parish. They had moved in to town to pursue their careers. It had surprised him that they wanted to join the parish. Single men and women who moved into a city for their career usually did not join the parish. Instead they stayed registered in the parish back home. The boys were regular to church. Although they did not take active interest in the church, they were regular. The few times he had spoken to them, they had come across as very nice people.

“See here Matthew”, John said. “Being gay is their choice and in a way I can give them that freedom. But adopting a child and then wanting the child to be baptized in the church? Don’t you agree that it is taking things too far? I mean, by choosing to be gay, they have turned their back on the church, so why do they want their child baptized?”

“My question to you is, what wrong did the child do? Why are we punishing the child for a perceived mistake by the parents?”

Joseph jumped up from his chair, “Let’s get this straight. Those two men are not the parents of that child. To be a parent, you have to conceive a child in the manner that God meant for the child to be conceived. You can’t go out to the market and pick up a child to become a parent.”

Matthew winced as if he had been physically punched.

“Now. Now. Calm down Joseph.”

Fr. Jeevan had gotten out of his chair and his muscular body ate up the space between the two men. He turned to Matthew, “Matt, he didn’t mean it like that. You know that.”

“Didn’t he? When I sit up night after night at my child’s bedside when she is burning up with fever, does he think I don’t feel the pain? That I don’t suffer just as if she was of my own blood?”

“He didn’t mean it like that”, the priest reiterated.

“Then just how did he mean it?”

Matthew’s eyes were brimming with tears and anger.

“I’m sorry Matt. I didn’t intend to hurt you. I wasn’t thinking when I said that. You are an amazing parent to both your children and I have said that on more than one occasion. What I said was patently wrong.”

Joseph circumvented the mass of the priest and held out his hand to his friend. Matthew and his wife has surprised everyone when they adopted a child a year after they had their own child. In fact, Fr. Jeevan had called out the event in church and held them up as an example to the others.

“I’m truly, truly sorry. I have seen you with your daughter and having done that, it was wrong of me to say what I said. I am ashamed of myself.”

John led Matthew to the window and the two of them lit up their cigarettes.

“Some coffee to cool us down? Joseph, come help me in the kitchen.”

The priest led Joseph to the kitchen, while John stood with Matthew and allowed him to smoke in silence.

Joseph returned carrying a tray of four steaming cups of black coffee and set it on the table. Then he walked up to Matthew and touched him on the shoulder.

“Come, have some coffee.”

Matthew, Joseph and John joined the priest at the coffee table.

“To go back to the topic”, started Joseph. “I take your point that the child should not be kept away from salvation because of the mistake made by Amit and Charles. But what kind of values will they teach him? Tomorrow we could be looking at a church full of people who only know the homosexual way of life. It will destroy the church.”

“Really? Isn’t it just enough that they be good parents and bring up the child as a good human being? I mean, take a look around us. We heterosexuals aren’t doing too well either. We bring up our children as selfish, self-centered math or science machines. We don’t stop to instill any sort of values in them. How much worse can homosexuals be?”

“But imagine this, a church full of people who only understand a family in which both parents are of the same sex. We are allowing a whole generation of degenerates.”

“That’s quite mean and also uninformed. Most of the gay people I know are actually quite well adjusted.”

“Well adjusted? Well adjusted, he says. How can you call someone who has sex with the same sex as well adjusted?”

“Really? How qualified are we to judge?”

“Ugh! I can’t imagine it. You know what all this gay behavior has done? It has made me suspicious of every guy who touches me.”

Fr. Jeevan had been sitting quietly, rubbing his hands as he was wont to do when in deep thought. He stood up and filled the room. It was as if he was transformed.

“Here is my decision, and I hope you will all see it my way and agree with me. Two things to set the stage. One is the first commandment – I am the Lord, your God. You shall have no other Gods. Secondly, remember Jesus and the adulteress, the one who was to be stoned? What really makes us Christian? It is the fact that we accept God as supreme and that we follow in the path laid out for us by his son, Christ. God is the sole judge, when we judge we are taking God’s role and there by crowning ourselves God. At that moment when we judge someone as good or as bad, we break the first commandment. Jesus showed us the way to avoid this pitfall when he asked that the first stone should be cast by the one with no sin.”

The room was filled with contemplative silence as the three men allowed the teaching to sink in.

“We will baptize the child in the name of Jesus and leave the judgment of right and wrong to God. I hope the committee will be with me on this.”

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