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Horse troughs, hot tubs and hashtags: Baptism is getting wild

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Horse troughs, hot tubs and hashtags: Baptism is getting wild

By Ruth Graham, The New York Times Company

Russell Moore’s baptism in 1983 was a decorous occasion, or at least as decorous as possible when the main event consists of being plunged underwater in front of one’s entire church. The ceremony took place in a formal baptistery inside his family’s Mississippi church, with a painting of the Jordan River — where Jesus was baptized by John the Baptist — behind the tank. An organ played softly in the background. Moore wore a long white robe.

But a few weeks ago, when it came time to baptize Moore’s 14-year-old son, Jonah, the scene was very different. Jonah wore a T-shirt. Moore wore sneakers. A full rock band, including drums and an electric guitar, accompanied. And Moore, who is the public theologian at Christianity Today magazine, submerged his son in a galvanized steel livestock trough hauled onstage at the church just for the occasion.

Baptism is getting a little bit wild.

In South Florida, members of Family Church gather on the beach for afternoon baptisms in the ocean, bracing themselves against the waves and keeping an eye out for sharks. At Walk Church in Las Vegas, leaders set up a folding tub in the courtyard of the middle school that they use for Sunday services. In Mansfield, Texas, Creekwood Church rents out the Hawaiian Falls Waterpark, where twisting slides tower over the ceremony.

“I would have probably thought a decade ago that not having a traditional baptistery would feel disconnected from my tradition,” Moore reflected a few days after his son’s ceremony, which took place at Immanuel Nashville, where he serves as minister in residence. “But I’ve found it to be the opposite.”

Performing the age-old Christian ritual in a more informal style “conveys this isn’t your grandmother’s church,” said Drake Osborn, pastor of teaching and liturgy at Grace Church in Waco, Texas. His congregation moved into a former bowling alley in 2016 but never considered installing a built-in baptistery. Instead, Grace Church uses a foam model bought online for about $2,500.

Matthew Busch, The New York Times

The Rev. Drake Osborn introduces, from left, Camryn Duffy, Rebecca Proffitt and Kaley Birchfield before they speak at their baptisms at Grace Church in Waco, Texas, on Nov. 14, 2021.

The shift has taken place as many pre-21st-century symbols of church life have fallen out of fashion in evangelical culture, especially among churches that are expanding or building new facilities. Sanctuaries are now “worship centers,” and steeples and stained glass are out. Natural light is often eschewed in favor of a black-box theater aesthetic optimized for flashy audiovisual experiences and online streaming.

It’s not just the architecture that is changing. Contemporary evangelical baptisms are often raucous affairs. Instead of subdued hymns and murmurs, think roaring modern worship music, fist pumps, tears and boisterous cheering. There are photographers, selfie stations and hashtags for social media. One church in Texas calls its regular mass baptism event a “plunge party.”

Scarce, too, are the traditional white robes. Instead, many churches hand out custom T-shirts for the occasion, with slogans like “#washed,” “Best day ever,” “No turning back” and “Meet the new me.” The fabric is typically a dark color for the sake of modesty when wet.

“We live in an age where people like experiences,” said Mark Clifton, pastor of Linwood Baptist in Kansas, which closed up its built-in baptistery last year and now uses an inflatable hot tub. “It’s not that it looks better, but it feels better. It feels more authentic, it feels more real.”

The hot tub, Clifton said, is also easier to fill, requires almost no storage and lets people gather around to view baptisms up close. “It’s not the container that matters,” he added. “It’s what is going on in the person’s heart.”

1638281924 675 Horse troughs hot tubs and hashtags Baptism is getting wild

Scott McIntyre, The New York Times

Whitley Edward, 9, prepares to be baptized in the Atlantic Ocean in Palm Beach, Fla., by the Rev. George Estornell of Family Church on Nov. 7, 2021. (Scott McIntyre, The New York Times)

Baptism is a core Christian tradition dating back to the earliest days of the church. Depending on one’s theology, the ritual is a component of salvation or a symbol of it.

Facilities tend to flow from theology. In traditions like Catholicism that baptize infants by sprinkling or pouring water on their heads, the equipment required is minimal, although it can be ornate: a bowl on a stand and perhaps a small pitcher. But many of those who practice “credo-baptism,” or the voluntary baptism of believers as an outward expression of faith, require the person — usually a teenager or an adult — to be fully immersed in the water. For the congregations in that category, including Baptists and charismatics, that means plumbing, heating equipment, maintenance costs and potentially hundreds of gallons of water for each event.

In the United States, indoor baptisteries — along with steeples and ornate architecture — were initially a mark of class. Baptisms in lakes and rivers were commonplace when those were the only practical options. But they were also messy, rustic and subject to the whims of weather. In the 19th century, some urban churches without running water painstakingly carried water into the church to set themselves apart from rural churches. The indoor facilities became prevalent in the early 20th century, when technology and the growing respectability of adult baptism made it feasible for more churches to install them.

The typical baptistery is behind and above the pulpit, with stairs on the side leading off to a hidden dressing room. Pastors often put on hip waders to enter the tub with the person to be baptized, who stands in the water until the moment in the ceremony in which that person is dipped briefly but dramatically backward into the pool.

As those 20th-century churches have aged, however, their once-modern baptisteries have come to look old-fashioned, too.

“It’s like eating organic food,” said Chad Seales, a professor of religious studies at the University of Texas at Austin who has written about the history of indoor baptisteries. The middle and upper classes now embrace the “primitive” as a mark of authenticity.

The change is not just a matter of style. Built-in baptisteries are bothersome. Mold and leaks are a constant problem, and because the tanks are larger than most portable options, they take longer to fill and heat. “Maintaining baptisteries is very expensive,” said Evan Welcher, until recently the pastor at Vine Street Bible Church, in Glenwood, Iowa, which operates two large 19th-century church buildings on the same block. (It’s a long story.)

These days, Welcher eyes newer, ostensibly hipper baptism facilities with something like envy.

“We have two baptisteries, and at different times they both leaked,” he said. “The cattle trough looks really easy; it looks so much better. People might say ‘Oh, the cool churches do it,’ but it actually looks like a better way.” Vine Street, which has baptized four people this year, spent around $3,000 to fix a broken heating pump in one of its facilities a few years ago.

Those “cooler churches” are often “church plants,” or new congregations established by an existing church or denomination with the goal of evangelizing in a new location. They typically begin by meeting in rented facilities like schools, movie theaters or storefronts, and they are attuned to events and aesthetics that will attract crowds.

Historically Black churches have generally maintained a more formal tradition, said David Latimore, director of the Betsey Stockton Center for Black Church Studies at Princeton Theological Seminary. The Black church “has always resisted the pull of informality for informality’s sake,” Latimore said. Since baptism is a ritual of belonging and “citizenship,” it had a kind of double meaning for much of American history. “There’s a great and heavy sense of the profound sacredness of this ritual,” he said.

1638281924 4 Horse troughs hot tubs and hashtags Baptism is getting wild

Matthew Busch, The New York Times

Rebecca Proffitt is baptized by the Rev. Buck Rogers in a baptismal pool at Grace Church in Waco, Texas, on Nov. 14, 2021.

No matter the level of spiritual solemnity, baptism offers a moment of spectacle, a perk especially for religious traditions like evangelicalism, whose architecture is often utilitarian, and which otherwise emphasize invisible shifts in personal belief as the site of greatest drama. Pop star Justin Bieber posted photos to Instagram last year of his baptism outdoors with his wife. It was “one of most special moments of my life,” he wrote. (He had previously been baptized in an NBA star’s oversize bathtub; repeat baptisms are controversial in some circles but not unheard of.) Other celebrities, including Demi Lovato, Mario Lopez and Christian hip-hop artist Lecrae, have been baptized in recent years in the Jordan River in the West Bank.

Adriana Robles, 21, was baptized a few weeks ago in a trough at Momentum Las Cruces, a nondenominational church in New Mexico. She had been baptized as a toddler in a Catholic church, she said, but it was important for her to participate as an adult as a demonstration of her commitment to her faith. She was nervous beforehand, she said, and the water was cold. But coming out of the water to the roars of music and cheers, “I felt like God was with me in that moment.”

But it doesn’t take a hip setting to make baptism a boisterous occasion. On a recent Tuesday night at First Denton, a large Baptist church north of Dallas, more than 200 college students and a few family members gathered for a Baptism Night held by the church’s college group, Overflow. Last fall, the event was postponed because of a leak in the baptistery — discovered when water began dripping down the walls in the hallway below — but on this night it was in shipshape condition.

“We see baptism as a celebration,” Jared Gregory, the college pastor, told the congregation. “Things are going to get a little rowdy.”

About a dozen students had signed up in advance for the ritual, and others felt moved to volunteer on the spot. The men changed clothes in a dressing room on one side of the baptistery; women on the other. One by one, they stepped down into the warm water, where Gregory was waiting for them. He plunged them backward, declaring them raised by Christ. One by one, they burst out beaming, sometimes with tears streaming down their faces. And each time, the crowd went wild.

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.

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Nuggets’ Bol Bol undergoing right foot surgery following voided trade, source says

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Nuggets’ Bol Bol trade with Detroit is off due to physical, source says

Nuggets forward Bol Bol is undergoing right foot surgery following his voided trade to Detroit last week, a league source told The Denver Post.

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Ex-Chicago Bears star Dan Hampton gets one year probation in Indiana drunken driving case

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Ex-Chicago Bears star Dan Hampton gets one year probation in Indiana drunken driving case

An Indiana judge sentenced Bears Hall of Famer Dan Hampton to a year probation and other conditions after he pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor drunken driving charge last month.

Hampton, 64, had an open jug of wine in his truck and had a blood alcohol level twice the legal limit when he was stopped by a Winfield police officer Nov. 20, according to charging documents.

Lake Superior Judge Julie Cantrell accepted his plea on Dec. 22, court records show.

“Mr. Hampton deeply regrets the decision that he made on that particular evening, but he’s accepted responsibility for his actions and he’s looking forward to successfully completing all the terms of his probation,” his lawyer Matt Fech said Monday.

He admitted Dec. 21 to Operating a Vehicle While Intoxicated, a class A misdemeanor. In exchange, prosecutors dropped his other pending misdemeanor charges. Hampton would attend a court-ordered substance abuse program, victim impact panel, complete a defensive driving course and an option for 10 days in jail or community service.

An officer pulled Hampton’s black Chevrolet truck over on the 11700 block of Iowa Street just before 7:30 p.m. Nov. 20 as he was driving 68 mph in a 40 mph zone, according to court documents.

Hampton, three miles from his Winfield home, claimed he had five beers at a friend’s house in Lowell, documents said. Later at the hospital, he learned his blood alcohol level was .189. The legal limit in Indiana is .08.

“That’s really high,” he whispered, before an officer took him to jail, documents said. He posted a $2,500 bond on Nov. 23.

Known to fans as “Danimal,” Hampton played as a defensive lineman for the Bears from 1979 to 1990, including the 1985 Super Bowl Championship team and is in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. He hosts “The Hamp and O’B” show on WGN Radio with former Bears Ed O’Bradovich, Glen Kozlowski and host Mark Carman.

He was originally charged with operation of a vehicle with a specified amount of alcohol in body, a class A misdemeanor, operating while intoxicated endangering a person, both class A misdemeanors, and operating while intoxicated, a class C misdemeanor.

Hampton had previous drunken driving arrests in 2002 in Arkansas, days before he was voted into the NFL Hall of Fame. He served a week in jail and was fined $1,000, according to CNN. He also had past alcohol-related arrests in 1996 and 1997, according to media reports.

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Big voting bill faces defeat as 2 Dems won’t stop filibuster

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Sinema, Manchin slammed as Senate begins voting bill debate

By LISA MASCARO

WASHINGTON (AP) — Voting legislation that’s a top priority for Democrats and civil rights leaders seemed headed for defeat as the Senate opened Tuesday, a devastating setback enabled by President Joe Biden’s own party as two holdout senators refuse to support rule changes to overcome a Republican filibuster.

The Democratic senators, Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona and Joe Manchin of West Virginia, face strong criticism from Black leaders and civil rights organizations for failing to take on what the critics call the “Jim Crow filibuster.”

The debate carries echoes of an earlier era when the Senate filibuster was deployed by opponents of civil rights legislation. It comes as Democrats and other voting advocates nationwide warn that Republican-led states are passing laws making it more difficult for Black Americans and others to vote by consolidating polling locations, requiring certain types of identification and ordering other changes.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer acknowledged the current bill’s likely defeat this week. But he said the fight is not over as he heeds advocates’ call to force all senators to go on record with their positions.

“The eyes of the nation will be watching what happens this week,” Schumer said as he opened the session Tuesday.

This is the fifth time the Senate will try to pass voting legislation this Congress.

The Freedom to Vote: John R. Lewis Act combines earlier bills into one package that would make Election Day a national holiday, ensure access to early voting and mail-in ballots — which have become especially popular during the COVID-19 pandemic— and enable the Justice Department to intervene in states with a history of voter interference, among other changes.

Both Manchin and Sinema say they support the package, which has passed the House, but they are unwilling to change the Senate rules to muscle it through that chamber over Republican objections. With a 50-50 split, Democrats have a narrow Senate majority — Vice President Kamala Harris can break a tie — but they lack the 60 votes needed to overcome the GOP filibuster.

Just as they blocked Biden’s broad “Build Back Better” domestic spending package, the two senators are now dashing hopes for the second major part of Biden’s presidential agenda. They are infuriating many of their colleagues and faced a barrage of criticism during Martin Luther King Jr. Day events.

Martin Luther King III, the son of the late civil rights leader, compared Sinema and Manchin to a white moderate his father wrote about during the civil rights battles of the 1950s and 1960s — a person who declared support for the goals of Black voting rights but not the direct actions or demonstrations that ultimately led to passage of landmark legislation.

“History will not remember them kindly,” the younger King said, referring to Sinema and Manchin by name.

Once reluctant to change Senate rules himself, Biden used the King holiday to pressure senators to do just that. But the push from the White House, including Biden’s blistering speech last week in Atlanta comparing opponents to segregationists, is seen as too late, coming as the president ends his first year in office with his popularity sagging.

“It’s time for every elected official in America to make it clear where they stand,” Biden said on the King holiday. “It’s time for every American to stand up. Speak out, be heard. Where do you stand?”

The Senate is launching what could become a weeklong debate, but the outcome is expected to be no different from past failed votes on the legislation. Biden has been unable to persuade Sinema and Manchin to join other Democrats to change the rules to lower the 60-vote threshold. In fact, Sinema upstaged the president last week, reiterating her opposition to the rules changes just before Biden arrived on Capitol Hill to court senators’ votes.

Senators have been working nonstop for weeks on rule changes that could win support from Sinema and Manchin. The two, both moderates, have expressed openness to discussing the ideas, but have not given their backing.

Both Manchin and Sinema have argued that preserving the filibuster rules, requiring a 60-vote majority to pass most legislation, is important for fostering bipartisanship. They also warn of what would happen if Republicans win back majority control, as is distinctly possible this election year.

Critics have also assailed Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell, who is leading his party against the voting legislation. The Kentucky senator has argued the legislation is a federal overreach into state-run elections, and he harshly criticized Biden’s speech last week as “unpresidential.”

“We cannot think of a time more defining to the American story than the chapter you are presently writing,” NAACP President and CEO Derrick Johnson wrote in an open letter to the Senate.

“What country will your children and grandchildren be left with, given the relentless assaults on American freedom and democracy?”

Manchin spokeswoman Sam Runyon said in a statement late Monday: “Senator Manchin believes strongly that every American citizen of legal age has not only the right, but also the responsibility to vote and that right must be protected by law. He continues to work on legislation to protect this right.”

Sinema’s office did not respond to a request for comment.

The voting bill was the Democrats’ top priority this Congress, and the House swiftly approved H.R. 1 only to see it languish in the Senate.

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