(or: “The Bailey’s, Won’t You Please Come Home?”)
Our neighbors, Rich and Arlene Bailey, are dyed-in-the-wool, Fundamentalist, ultra-right-wing Christians.
We first met Arlene shortly after we bought our home in 2006. I can still picture her: a somewhat heavy-set woman with short-cropped hair, dressed in a loose-fitting print muumuu-type dress, walking across our lawn with a huge smile on her face. “I heard that a preacher was moving in next to us,” she said, and she just had to introduce herself. She was thrilled that she was going to have Christian neighbors, and a preacher at that!
The first few years went well. We found that we had Scrabble in common, and so we would set an evening aside from time to time for Arlene to play Scrabble with Evelyn and me while Rich settled into my recliner to watch TV. But over time, as we discussed our religious beliefs, it became evident that we weren’t exactly on the same page. Arlene’s big bugaboo centered on infant baptism (what she called “baby baptism”) – she was “agin’ it.” She based her conclusion on the lack of biblical evidence (nowhere did it say in scripture that anyone at any time had baptized an infant. I countered with an admittedly eisegetical reference to Acts 10, where it’s reported that the Gentile Cornelius “and his entire household” were baptized, which could arguably include any infants among the family members). In strictly evident terms, baptism in the Bible is exclusively given to adults by immersion (I really can’t think of an infant baptism being reported in any of the biblical texts), so she had a strong argument there. However, those of us who practice infant baptism believe that every person is of sacred worth regardless of age and qualifies to receive the sacraments (in the case of most Protestant churches, there are only two sacraments: Baptism and Holy Communion). Parents or sponsors take the vows of Baptism on behalf of the child who then takes those vows on him/herself at confirmation.
From that dividing line things just happened that put more distance between the Baileys and us to the point where Arlene in particular finds it gut-wrenching even to say hello. She has written two or three lengthy letters to us in an attempt to get us to understand the error of our ways. One of the first such letters point-blank said that, as regrettable as it was, they could no longer be our friends because “we prefer our friends to be Christians.” Whenever she sends anything to us through the mail (tracts, etc.), she makes a point of not using my ministerial or doctoral title on the envelope, but simply addresses it to “Mr. and Mrs.” or simply “Karl and Evelyn.” It’s her way of saying that she doesn’t believe I’m truly a minister of the Gospel. In fact, she has accused me of condemning people to hell because I baptized their babies and led them away from the truth.
And that’s another theme that Arlene reverts back to often – how she wants others to know the truth and to understand Christian doctrine and to have the same salvation experience she had (because anything else couldn’t possibly be genuine). She’s convinced that neither Evelyn nor I are saved because we didn’t have the “Damascus Road” experience that she had (Acts 9, the story of Saul’s conversion on the Road to Damascus).
And so, you can imagine my utter astonishment when I saw Rich (with whom I have at least a conversational relationship) last week and asked him what he and Arlene were planning to do for Easter. His one-word reply: