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My mother-in-law secretly baptized my Jewish children
December 27, 2007 8:33 PM   Subscribe

I'm Jewish. My wife converted many years ago. I found out that my Mother-In-Law secretly baptized my children.

My wife does not know.

Whatever respect I have for my mother-in-law is shattered. Along with my trust. I have no idea where to begin. How could a mother do this to her daughter? How could she mock my children's religion? How could a Priest allow this?

And it gets deeper. Person A told Person B. Person B, who could no longer keep this to themselves, cracked and told me. need to let person A know that B told me. Person A, who is very dear to me, is not in a position where I expected them to tell me. But A and B were put in an awful position of knowing this while my wife and I were in the dark.

I don't any real hard facts or evidence but now I need to find out what is going on. All I really know is that this was done swiftly with an at-home kit. I also learned that my MIL's current Priest, who only recently took over the church, expressed disapproval upon finding out that this happened.

My children are very knowledgeable and proud of their religion. I do not believe that they are damaged (no offense anyone)in the least.

I need to find out what happened and I need to deal with this. Of course, I have no idea how to break this to my wife. I figure that having facts will make this easier.

I have a good relationship with my father-in-law, I figure I can let him know I found out and discuss this. Considering the family dynamics, I'm sure that father-in-law didn't know about this act until it happened.

I feel like I can also ask the current Priest, as I have a good relationship with him; and I would expect a Priest to tell the truth.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (114 answers total) 22 users marked this as a favorite
 
It's obnoxious and stupid and wrong, but try to keep a sense of proportion. Your kids weren't harmed in any way by it.

The one I'd really be angry at is the priest. I would file a formal complaint with the church about this.
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 8:43 PM on December 27, 2007


If this happened to me, I would just pretend I didn't know. For you (as for me), baptism is an empty ritual—it has only the power you ascribe to it. Ascribe no power to it, and be the bigger person here.
posted by gerryblog at 8:44 PM on December 27, 2007 [5 favorites]


I'm Jewish. And I don't get the big deal. I find it hard to believe that one can impact a third party soul with an at-home kit in any meaningful way. So what harm's done, aside from the element of deceit? And even that isn't such a big deal. It wasn't done with harm in mind.

I would, however, be apprehensive about leaving the kids with your in-laws for any length of time, lest they be subjected to unremitting religious spiel. But even that is eminently survivable. Lots of people try to indoctrinate kids. Shoot, I remember being pitched all sorts of ways from small childhood. In the end, they'll make up their own minds. They may not even follow YOUR spiel...may eschew Judaism.
posted by jimmyjimjim at 8:44 PM on December 27, 2007


I don't mean to be rude, but do you have any other questions besides the ones in your first paragraph?
How could a mother do this to her daughter? How could she mock my children's religion? How could a Priest allow this?
Although those are probably important questions for you, without knowing more about your MIL I'm not sure if any of us can shed much light on this... and I'm not sure if that's really what you're looking for here. You seem to be implicitly asking, what you should I do next, how should I proceed? Is that the question you are asking?
posted by davidstandaford at 8:46 PM on December 27, 2007


What good will come of making a big deal about this? Or any sort of deal, for that matter? What do you hope to accomplish? This is the sort of thing that is best just kept to yourself. You have every right not to trust your mother-in-law in the future, of course, but I can't envision any scenario in which responding to this helps the situation.
posted by jdroth at 8:53 PM on December 27, 2007


Can you talk to a rabbi about this? I would recommend it. Here's why:

(1) While I can understand why you are upset (I am Jewish), I am certain that the MIL intended no harm and, in fact, may have believed that bad things would happen to the children if she did not take action. I think a rabbi, who has probably run into this sort of thing before, might be able to offer some perspective that would explain the MIL's actions and might elp you figure out what to do next.

(2) I don't think you should talk to the priest or anyone else connected to your wife's family until you've figured out a way to bring your wife into the loop. If you start investigating this without first bringing your wife into the picture, you're putting your wife in a bad position -- she's going to have to choose sides in the fight, will feel defensive about what her mother did, etc. On the other hand, if you first get your thoughts sorted out with a rabbi or someone else, you can then then talk to the rabbi about how to talk to your wife about this, such as both of you going to see the rabbi.
posted by Mid at 8:54 PM on December 27, 2007 [9 favorites]


I don't think anon is upset that the baptism was somehow harmful. He seems really thrown and angered by how far his mother-in-law overstepped her position.

I don't want to get all specific here (mefi mail me if you want more info), but we went through something similar with my MIL. I recommend a swift, straightforward and unambiguous response.

Getting the facts straight first is a good idea (priest seems like a good place to start). Then, you (either your wife or both of you together) need to directly talk to your MIL. Don't involve any more people in this than you need to; it will only exacerbate the problem.

I would expect things to get worse before they get better.
posted by milarepa at 8:55 PM on December 27, 2007 [1 favorite]


Your MIL acted under the belief she was saving the children from eternal damnation. Try to consider that when you feel harshly against her. Add to your first paragraph "How can a decent women allow her grandchildren to suffer for all eternity."

You're wife has made a huge sacrifice for you converting to your religion, and I'm sure her parents went through turmoil concerning it. You should respect the MIL's faith before you get all uppity about the lack of respect she has shown yours, or else you're being a hypocrite, and both religions look down on that, right?

And like gerryblog says the ritual is only empowered by your feelings about it, relax and this 'problem' goes away. Leave it alone.
posted by oblio_one at 8:55 PM on December 27, 2007 [4 favorites]


I've thought about this topic quite a bit. It hasn't happened to me, but my inlaws are fairly devout and it's crossed my mind that the behind-our-back baptism is a remote possibility for our children. I've gotten myself fairly worked up about it in the past, but I'm at peace with it now. How I came to that peace was this: I don't believe in that faith, so as an extension the baptism doesn't mean anything to me either.

I agree that the MIL was way way way out of line for doing it, but I'd like to present to you the option that you could just file this under "my MIL made a terrible decision" and let it go. It was disrespectful, absolutely, but I doubt it was meant to mock your or your children's religion. Rather, it was to overcome her irrational fear that they would be damned if they didn't get baptized. It's her burden here, and not necessarily yours.

Sounds like your children were old enough to understand that it happened. Perhaps your focus should be on them and what they think about it.

I would say that you could do irreparable harm by telling your wife. The MIL is not her MIL, it's her Mother. I'd be very careful with that.
posted by mcstayinskool at 8:56 PM on December 27, 2007


Talk to Rabbi. Rabbi talks to Priest. They advise you on what to do.
posted by Ironmouth at 8:56 PM on December 27, 2007 [2 favorites]


Take as much time as you need to tell your wife, if indeed you do. The kids can't get baptized a second time.

I would tell the M.I.L. that I find her actions incomprehensible and meaningless, and when the kids are a little older they'll hear a really funny story about the time their crazy old granny poured water on them to save them from Hell. And that if she breathes a word to them in the mean time, that story will be told in her presence. You may find this is all you have to say before she begs you to keep it a private matter.
posted by topynate at 8:58 PM on December 27, 2007


This was flat out wrong. I don't know what an "at home kit" is but all baptism requires is water and a will to proceed. The bigger question is this: what else would she do against your wishes? Take the kids out of state? Out of the country? Her judgment is rightfully called into question in all fields.

Dialog is the only way to solve this issue and should have been her first avenue with you. This comes off as cheap, exploitative of your children and dismissive of your religious beliefs. Perhaps she feels that that is the price of "saving the children's souls" and she is willing to pay it. It makes no point in guessing now, rather, a conversation will bring you to those answers.
Either she felt she would not be "caught" or she felt that if she was "caught" that she was in the right. For her to think that either position (deception or moral pompousness) is acceptable again would lead me to question her fundamental thought processes.

Out of curiosity, what denomination performed this ritual on your kids without you being present or contacted?
posted by zerobyproxy at 9:01 PM on December 27, 2007


I suggest that you start with your own rabbi. Ask him first, if this pseudo baptism has any religious impact from his or her point of view. Knowing that your kids are still ritually kosher should make this easier to swallow. (Or if not, he can tell you what to do)

Also figure out whether or not you really need to know any more about the details. You know your MIL's intent. You know that either there was no priest or the priest is no longer at the parish so there is no point in going after him (if he even existed). Is there really anything else you actually need to know. If not, don't get yourself all riled up asking questions whose answers don't really matter but just remind you of what your MIL did.

Secondly your rabbi can help you figure out if/when/how you should tell your wife. Mostly depends whether she will ever find out on her own, if so, she would probably rather hear it from you than to find out that you knew about all along. If not, then it is a more complicated choice. However, given that you were told, she will probably find out eventually. Still, you probably want to get your own head around it and calm down before you tell her. Once you tell her, let her decide how to deal with her mother, with you offering whatever kind of support you need.
posted by metahawk at 9:03 PM on December 27, 2007


I can't believe so many people are so passe about this. I'm agnostic. If I have kids I plan to raise them without faith. If I found out my extended family baptized them as mormon's (my family's religion) or even took them to church without my consent I would bring down the hammer. Something tells me if the MIL was a pagan priestess who had a cleansing ritual for the kids people would be freaking out, but this is just a simple little christian baptism...no harm there. How about keep your faith and your religion off my kids and let me the parent decide how that stuff gets introduced?

As for your question - tell your wife. This is her mother and making it any stranger than it already is you guys need to find things out together and decide how to move forward as a team. If it were me, this would end solo trips to grandma's for the kids until I could trust that she could act appropriately.
posted by nadawi at 9:06 PM on December 27, 2007 [26 favorites]


You'd have a tough time convincing me that priests (or religious leaders of any persuasion, actually) aren't at least as evil as anyone else. Hell, the day after my parents were killed in a shelling, a Serbian Orthodox priest was on the radio describing how this massacre (others were killed) of Muslims was helping to make the world a better place for Christ's return. I'm sure Jesus loved that.

Bearing that in mind, a "secret" baptism sounds downright innocent if one considers that the adult parties involved have probably convinced themselves that your kids were destined to go to hell if the baptism didn't happen. Many Christians believe they have a duty to save souls. That said, they also have duties to be honest and to not engage in deception. So by Christianity's own scripture, your mother-in-law is breaking a Holy Commandment.

Facts should be easy to come by. If you know in which parish the baptism took place, there are certainly baptismal records. So just go to the appropriate place and have a look. It's exceedingly unethical (and quite medieval, in my mind) for any modern-day priest to baptize kids without the permission of parents, so as soon as I had my proof, I'd be writing letters to the paper and naming names and everything else. This disrespect for the right of parents to decide the faith in which they want their kids to be raised is outrageous. (And keeping in mind historical events, I find it much more atrocious to baptize someone's kids against their religion than I would if it were just being done because the parents were lazy or didn't care much one way or the other about religion or something like that.

A lot depends on whether your wife knew or not. You say she doesn't, but I guess I'm just blown away that this could happen without permission from one of the parents. If she knows, I hope she will fully stand behind you.

Mother-in-law should be called out on this. She should be told that it will be quite some time before she gets to spend time with her grandchildren, since she clearly does not respect their faith, which is an essence of their being. Additionally, she must figure out a way to "undo" their baptism. (This is, I imagine, rather impossible by Christian standards, so it'll keep her busy for a while!) Furthermore, you should take on the responsibility of educating her on Judaism and the history of the Jews. Open your heart (just this little bit) and purchase for her some books and tell her that reading them and learning about this aspect of her grandchildrens' is necessary if she wishes to re-enter their lives. It would be nice to include one or two books which mention the horrors of Jewish families who lost their "Aryan"-looking kids to falsified adoptions during WWII. The parallels are there. I should also mention that although your father-in-law was not the catalyst, neither did he say "no" nor tell you at the time. I could quote all sorts of things about what happens when "innocent" people stand by and do nothing, but I'm sure this sentence is reminder enough.

I hope that your kids are healthy and happy, but this act of your mother-in-law is, in its barest form, an act of hatred against Judaism. (Not to mention the personal offense and lack of respect for you simply as a son-in-law, and especially for her own daughter.)
posted by Dee Xtrovert at 9:06 PM on December 27, 2007 [22 favorites]


I would assume that, if you let this go for the reasons some argue above--that your children weren't harmed, that your MIL's intentions were probably reasonably innocent--you'll have future incidents like this (MIL going behind your back "for the children's own good"). However harmless the baptism was in and of itself, having your MIL think that she can do things with/to your children without your consent seems like a bad situation.
posted by Meg_Murry at 9:07 PM on December 27, 2007 [3 favorites]


I'm finding it a bit difficult to see any question here other than a couple of rhetorical ones. It's an anonymous question, so it must have passed admin muster, but I'm still scratching my head a bit. Since the poster can't really respond, I guess the question is: What should I do?

The answer, of course, is nothing, beyond possibly speaking to your mother-in-law about it, while your wife is there, in as calm a way as possible.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 9:10 PM on December 27, 2007 [1 favorite]


Pretty much the same thing happened to me when I was a child.

As the story goes, I was staying with my grandparents for a few weeks while my parents we're moving us into a new house. My grandmother had me baptized without my parents' knowledge or consent. I'm not sure which denomination it was, though she had left the Catholic church over her disagreement over their birth control policy, so it probably wasn't them.

As far as I know, my Mom didn't know anything about it until sometime around when my grandmother passed away. She told me the news and, while we pondered how weird it was, she told me not to tell my Dad about it because he would get upset.

A few days later, I called my Dad and told him the whole story, and we laughed.

Long story short, I don't think there's any reason to get too upset about this. However, if you're Mother-in-Law is really hellbent about her religion, she needs a talking to. Go to her directly, and discreetly, and laugh off her meaningless gesture. If she's adamant, then feel free to raise Jewish hell and put her in her place. But please make sure you talk about all this with your wife first. Tell her what you know, and let the communion wafers fall where they may.
posted by dhammond at 9:14 PM on December 27, 2007 [2 favorites]


When I started writing my post, no one had responded. I was quite sure that as others did respond, that would almost unanimously echo my own feelings. I'm astonished to read what I'm reading. The road to hell is paved with good intentions.

My parents in Bosnia were fairly well-off. Property, successful businesses, money in the bank. When politicians started spewing anti-Muslim crap, they laughed and said it would blow over. We could have emigrated; we had the money. My parents told me, "it's just nonsense and it doesn't really affect us, it doesn't mean anything."

They didn't realize how serious it was until my city was surrounded and it was impossible to get out. They died as a result. I barely survived and I lost everything.

In all likelihood, your children aren't "harmed" in any tangible way. But when people tend to blow off the small stuff, every once in a while the "big stuff" happens. Trust my experiences on this; although I was still a kid when I lost my parents, I regret every day that I didn't beg and plead for the family to leave Bosnia . . . it had been discussed. And weren't a German Jewish family in WWII, we were modern Europeans living in peace while grunge and rap were in fashion.

I think this is very serious and however it takes, people need to know that this crap is totally wrong and simply won't be tolerated at all. Hitler thought he was doing the right thing too; it's no excuse.
posted by Dee Xtrovert at 9:16 PM on December 27, 2007 [53 favorites]


I don't know anything about your family dynamics, so I can only share my own thoughts. Something like this happened in my own family.

If your MIL is a devout Catholic, she might believe that only baptized people get into heaven. Imagine how worried she might have been imagining that her grandchildren, whom she must love very much, languishing in Purgatory for all eternity. That's enough to keep any grandmother up at night. It would have been better if she'd told you first, but for whatever reason, she didn't.

Your MIL may well have done this not because she wants to indoctrinate your children or put one over on you but because she loves them and wants to keep them safe. She may not be the sort of person who can express such an intention gracefully to you, but that may be what was in her head. If she followed a different faith, she might have chanted over them or burned sage or sacrificed a pig. As a Catholic, she baptized them.

The secret baptizer in my family never told anyone until the baptizee was an adult. She didn't do it as a power play, but out of love, and even when she revealed what she had done, she didn't pressure her to join her faith. I hope your mother-in-law's intentions were as pure.
posted by freshwater_pr0n at 9:16 PM on December 27, 2007 [1 favorite]


Do you know for a fact that a priest performed these baptisms? It is not clear from your question above. It would be very, very unusual for a clergy-person to do a quickie, secret baptism under the circumstances that you describe. Parental consent isn't optional, it is required in practically any denomination I can think of. (Just to describe how non-easy it typically is, my sister and her husband, both of whom are life long Catholics, have to go through an unbelievable amount of rigamarole to baptize their first child at the parish down the street from them. If there was a speedy way to do it, they would have had it over with by now, trust me.) To me it kinda sounds like your MIL took matters into her own hands, so to speak.

You are completely right to feel betrayed by this, whether or not it was even a real baptism. But the bottom line is, your kids are the religion that you are raising them in, which is Judaism. I think if anybody confronts your MIL about this it should be your wife, so she would have to know. Also, definitely talk to the priest; I bet if you told him the details of the 'baptism' he would be able to put your mind at ease with regard to is legitimacy.
posted by brain cloud at 9:18 PM on December 27, 2007


Hey Anon,

I can see why you'd be angry/frustrated/etc. Do you know why she did it?

Is it a control issue? Was it fear? Is your MIL one of those people who is just absolutely terrified that the lack of sprinkling means her children are doomed to an eternity of burning awfulness? Was it out of spite? Something else?

So, what do you want to happen? Perhaps rather than focusing on the 'what are you going to do' part, you could focus on the 'outcome you're looking for' part, and then perhaps the appropriate path to get there will present itself.

For example, you might decide that you want your MIL to respect your religion (and your family's), and part of that means that you want to be aware of any activity that introduces them to another religion. You might decide that you just want your MIL to be aware that you know what she did, and leave it at that. Don't know the age of your children, but perhaps if they are aware of what happened, you might want to let them know so they don't feel they have to keep a secret from you, because you think it's important that your family trust each other. Perhaps you tell your wife not because you want her to 'do' something about it, but to share your feelings which you are still sorting out, because you are a team that wrestles and solves problems together?

In short, take your time to figure out what outcome you want, (and regardless of that, since you can't control other people), how you wish to behave. Consider people you respect, or your own religious values. Along with the anger - what does the compassion that you hopefully have for yourself, your wife, your MIL/FIL, person A and B, your children, and the priest, ask you to do?
posted by anitanita at 9:19 PM on December 27, 2007


I can't answer the "what should I do" aspect of this, but I can say from personal experience that this is really, really common, and is done by people in lots of denominations.

On the one hand it is totally offensive and disrespectful to you, your children, and your faith. On the other hand, it is done (when I have seen this) genuinely out of love for the children, and out of the belief that a small ritual might be enough to save their eternal souls. (Look at the bright side: there are denominations that do retroactive baptisms -- she could have gone from your kids straight through to your great-great-great-great grandparents...)

So you have a choice of which aspect to focus on -- the big slap in the face, or the (albeit misguided) gesture of love for the kids. And without knowing the people involved, we can't know what was the motivation of your mother in law -- was she giving you the finger, or just trying to help the grandkids?

More fundamentally, she may not see your wife as really converted -- lots of people do what you might call "social" conversions, where you go through the rituals but just to make other people happy, not because you are a 110% fire-breathing convert. If your MIL thinks that that was the case for your wife, then she won't think of baptizing the kids as a transgressive act at all. This may be more about your MIL and your wife's relationship, rather than anything to do with you or even with the kids.
posted by Forktine at 9:27 PM on December 27, 2007


I'm a pastor, and years ago at my church (before I was appointed there), a somewhat similar story happened to someone in my church. Here, it was a Jewish mom and a United Methodist dad, and the dad had the kids baptized.

The mom asked her rabbi about it, and the rabbi's response was that their baptism did not make them a bit less Jewish.

Of course, ymmv.
posted by 4ster at 9:32 PM on December 27, 2007 [1 favorite]


I agree that you should bring your wife in ASAP instead of talking to your FIL first. Too much behind-the-back going on already.

The two of you should talk to your rabbi together right away. Your rabbi can likely counsel you on how you and your wife can a) explain to your MIL why her actions were completely over the line b) suggest a way to get your MIL some educating in Judaism, which she apparently needs, and c) talk you down from strangling your MIL. :)

Just for a data point, I'm not Jewish -- I was raised Christian, I was baptized -- and I find your story a tremendous and incredibly hurtful breach of trust. Yeah, her intentions may have been not harmful. Doesn't mean she gets to involve your child in a Christian sacrament behind your back. Good gods, if the roles were reversed, do some of you folks think it would've been okay for grandma to have circumcised the child against the parents' wishes?
posted by desuetude at 9:32 PM on December 27, 2007 [3 favorites]


If your mother in law really believes the Christian stuff, of course she'll try to 'save' her grandkids. Still, this isn't the olden days, when you could lose custody of the secretly baptized; she's just a daft, superstitious biddy, and you should assume she's the sort of person who is hung up on the idea their religion is inherently the correct one, but normally capable of keeping her mouth shut. If the kids are really strong in their faith, a little bit of weak exposure to counter arguments inoculates them and makes their current attitudes stronger. Probably the best way to handle this is to roll your eyes and be ready to intercept the odd pamphlet, written in circular logic, about Jesus being the Only Way.
posted by Phalene at 9:36 PM on December 27, 2007


Seconding what nadawi said.

And definitely tell your wife. then you can both proceed to figure out what to do. It's really not right to keep her in the dark.
posted by cmgonzalez at 9:37 PM on December 27, 2007


This thread has a good chance of turning into a shitstorm, or at best, a heated debate re: your MIL's good intentions vs. her unconscionable boundary crossing.

There will be a number of people who will weigh in with their moral judgments on the situation. There may well be a MetaTalk thread to follow. The mods will almost certainly be watching closely and removing inflammatory or otherwise unhelpful comments.

Ignore everything other than advice on how to proceed. No one should tell you how to feel about this, or how egregious your MIL's transgression was. This is for you to decide.

What is important is how to proceed. And how to proceed is this: maintain as much calm and compassion as you can muster. Tell your wife immediately. Calmly. The two of you should develop a strategy from there.

The father-in-law seems a good bet, but I'd feel your wife out on that first. The priest who was involved (my understanding is that there are two here -- one who was involved in the baptism, and a later one who strongly disapproves) will likely not be either helpful or forthcoming, but will spend most of the time trying to explain your MIL's point of view on this. The later priest will likely be more sympathetic to you, but less inclined to get involved, and anyway will only have second-hand info if he wasn't involved.

Your wife's inclination may be to go all Chuck Norris on her mom (and probably dad, because I doubt he had no knowledge of this) from the get-go. Try to keep her calm as you can, but do not prevent her from calling her parents out on the carpet for this, if it's what she really wants to do.

This will probably get ugly for a while. You must do what you can to keep things calm as you can on your side without relinquishing an honest expression of your thoughts and feelings, and you sure as hell shouldn't let your wife be the only bad guy to her parents. Back her up with whatever she decides, and lend her balanced perspective when it's appropriate -- it's her family and therefore her call, and you need to be there to support her.
posted by middleclasstool at 9:39 PM on December 27, 2007 [1 favorite]


I am Jewish and I believe that all christians of any denomination are somewhat jewish. The god they have is a Jewish god, repackaged and spiffed up with a (jewish) savior. Their old testament is the Jewish bible. It's the same god in the end. I think if your MIL wants to dip the kids in the water to keep them out of hell, I wouldn't make a big deal about it. She has also probably told them all about Santa Claus and the Holy Ghost....
posted by lee at 9:44 PM on December 27, 2007


I'd consider this a cheap lesson, personally - Imagine how much worse it COULD have been later, if you hadn't found out what sort of person your Morther-in-Law is, now?

If you're having trouble coming up with ideas, try watching Jesus Camp.
posted by Orb2069 at 9:46 PM on December 27, 2007


I'm agnostic. If I have kids I plan to raise them without faith. If I found out my extended family baptized them as mormon's (my family's religion) or even took them to church without my consent I would bring down the hammer.

You're not an agnostic. You're an atheist. Bring down the hammer on my for pointing this out, if you wish, but if you were an agnostic you'd be open to interpretations, including religious ones, and see them as aspects of spirituality, not deterministic wholes.
posted by scarabic at 9:48 PM on December 27, 2007 [4 favorites]


I think a lot of posters are going awfully easily on the MIL here. Something substantially similar happened in my family (there's a long and kind of obvious history of Christians of various stripes trying to "save" Jewish children through deceptive practices) and it seems that there is only one reasonable response. Your MIL is a Jew-hater whose self-righteousness places your and your children's safety into jeopardy. It's time to manage a way to completely cut her out of your life and isolate her from the rest of her family so that you and yours can live a normal life without anti-semitism infecting your life. If you have a good relationship with your father-in-law, it might be a tough call, but you're probably better off throwing the baby out with the bath water.

If she got the chance, she would abduct you to, to save you. She will never change. Don't bother talking to the priest, unless you want to marvel at backbending doublespeech in the face of inexcusable complicity. He knew.
posted by allen.spaulding at 9:56 PM on December 27, 2007


I agree that you should ignore the moralizing about the MIL's intentions. They are not relevant. Only advice about how to proceed is relevant.

If, after you talk to your wife, you decide/discover that this really is eating at you, it might be worth discussing the issue with the new priest/minister to determine whether the baptism satisfied all of the requirements of canon law for that faith.

For example, having adults acting with blatant duplicity might invalidate any statements they might make on behalf of the children, if they were infants. Or, if they were not infants, the children certainly did not go through any sort of catechumen's education, and the baptism was not performed in an life-threatening emergency which might excuse this.

If it did not meet the requirements of canon law, then maybe there was no valid baptism even by the terms of that religion. Whatever requirements Judaism might require to keep the children ritually clean, it would then be the case that not even MIL's faith thinks it sucessfully "stole" your children.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 9:57 PM on December 27, 2007


FWIW, this presupposes that MIL's faith is liturgical and hierarchical enough to have a coherent body of canon law. Lots of protestant faiths don't.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 9:59 PM on December 27, 2007


If your mother in law is Catholic, a home baptism would most likely be an "emergency baptism". The Wikipedia article is correct, in that a baptism may only be provided by a non-authorized person in case of an emergency, such as serious illness or other imminent threat of death. Unless the priest/deacon/authorized person did it (as brain cloud says, it seems unlikely and probably against canon law to do it that way, without the parents going through preparation, etc.) then your mother in law's so-called baptism would not likely be seen as valid by the church. So basically, they probably weren't baptized, they just had water splashed on them by their grandma while she muttered about "the father and the son and the holy spirit".
I'm not sure whether that's better or worse than her having had them validly baptized; the fact remains that she still showed an astonishing lack of respect for you, your wife, and your children. But I doubt that the institutional church had much to do with her ignorant and disrespectful act. If you do find out that the former priest had something to do with it, then I would recommend (actually, as a Catholic, I would ask that you please do) complain to the Diocese.
posted by katemonster at 10:08 PM on December 27, 2007 [4 favorites]



"If you're having trouble coming up with ideas, try watching Jesus Camp."

Um ... okay. Or maybe you could look at the role the Church played in the Civil Rights Movement and Abolition.

I'm just sayin' ... no reason to stereotype an entire faith just because one MIL is a habitual line-stepper.

I think some of the "OMG she's a jew-hater" people are going a little bit overboard here. I don't know the lady, but chances are she's not trying to hate on your people, place your safety in jeopardy or abduct you in order to save you. Chances are she just loves her grandchildren and wants to see that they are spiritually cared for in the way she understands and believes. If it's not your prayer, what does it matter to you? For all I know, one of my Mormon friends could have proxy-baptized me years ago ... makes not a whit of difference in my life. The more blessing the better, I say!

If the goal here is to maintain normal relations with your wife's family, flying at them with the Hitler card is not the way to do it. You and your wife should agree on a way that you can express your displeasure in a calm and rational way, do so, and then move on with your lives. It's only a big deal if you make it one.
posted by mccxxiii at 10:18 PM on December 27, 2007 [3 favorites]


You never really know how you'd react until this happens to you, but my first approach would be to tell my wife. I'd need to make it obvious how deeply offended I was, and exactly how bad a breach of trust I considered it to be. I would try to remain calm and I would initially only present my point of view, without trying to make her agree with me.

The next step would be to reach a consensus or a compromise on how to continue to deal with the MIL. If at all. They're her kids too, remember.
zerobyproxy: The bigger question is this: what else would she do against your wishes? Take the kids out of state? Out of the country? Her judgment is rightfully called into question in all fields.
This is a very important point. I would have serious difficulty leaving my children in the hands of someone who thought it was the right thing to do to involve them in any sort of religious ceremony without asking for my permission first. If I was feeling gracious I might describe them as misguided. On a bad day I might use the word "nutter". Either way, I wouldn't want them taking care of anything I cared about, least of all my kids.

(Disclaimer: I do not have a wife or kids.)
posted by krisjohn at 10:19 PM on December 27, 2007


Sorry, in the line "They're her kids too, remember", the "her" is your wife, not your MIL.
posted by krisjohn at 10:22 PM on December 27, 2007


An "at home kit"? What exactly do you think happens during a baptism? Wacky Christian factoid: In an emergency, you can baptism someone with spit! No secret Christian-making implements are employed, I swear.

I hear that you're upset about this, but frankly, I think you should:

a) Convene with your lady wife, and then have a gentle, but firm conversation with your in-laws about how your kids will be free to choose any religion they like when they're adults, but they're being raised as Jews, please respect that.

b) Chalk this up to the annals of wacky family history. Honestly, this is more of a great dinner-party story than this is something you need to get and stay furious about. (Although you sound really interested in getting and staying furious, and you're sure to get support for that perspective here. AskMe likes to support religious rage!)

For the people advocating freaking out: you realize that many of your deceased ancestors, for instance, have been proxy-baptised into the Mormon church. Does that suddenly make them Mormons? Most of us would say that no, it just makes them a bunch of dead people some Mormons inaccurately believe they saved from an undesirable afterlife. Perhaps a little odd, but meaningless to me, personally.
posted by thehmsbeagle at 10:36 PM on December 27, 2007 [3 favorites]


first of all - i am agnostic because i believe that there could be something more out there but that we as a species are unable to know the answers. an athiest believes there is no god. i just believe it's an unanswerable. it might seem like a slight difference to you, scarabic - one i can't figure out why you care to "enlighten" me on, but there it is. now, believing mumbo jumbo that was made up by man to control people and wrapping it up in faith is just crazy talk. find your own stories if you must, but if you want to pass those stories and all the bullshit around them on to children then you should really contain it to your own offspring and let everyone else do the same.

it's not the baptism that matters, it's the lack of respect for the OP and his wife as parents. It's the MIL knowing a moral and ethical stand that the parents have taken and decided her's was more important. This is someone who can't automatically be trusted in the care of the children any longer. That's the crux of the issue, not the dead man on the cross and the thimble full of water.

and for those making baptism of the dead associations...that's just off the mark. when mormons pretend to be dead people and get dunked, no one is actually involved besides the people who believe the crazy stuff. it this instance, the MIL is tampering with the brains of children. If she wanted to baptize them by proxy with photographs and candles, then the analogy would be sound.
posted by nadawi at 11:00 PM on December 27, 2007 [1 favorite]


Sorry, I haven't read the above posts, so I'm sorry if I repeat.

I would say your problem isn't so much that she baptized the kids. This doesn't affect their status (affiliation/beliefs) as Jews. It is irrelevant in that respect.

(fun personal fact, my parents were married in the episcopalian church and later divorced, my father remarried a catholic and somehow managed to annul a 13 year marriage that produced a child, this was done behind my mother's back and she was hysterical when she found out, so she called the local episcopalian priest who reminded her that is was irrelevant what the catholics had done and it carried zero weight in the church (and I suppose with God), I personally still resent the Catholic church for making me a bastard, but that's a vendetta for another day)

You're real problem is what this represents. Your MIL has affirmatively shown that she does not respect your role as your children's parents and when she disagrees with you, she believes she has the moral authority to do whatever the hell she wants to. This means no more unsupervised trips to grandma's. Keep it short and sweet, tell her what has done is categorically unacceptable and that she has proven she cannot be trusted alone with your children. Time with the grandkids will now be reserved for family get togethers, the occasional (non christian) holiday and other special events.

And by the way, it is irrelevant that she thinks they will go to hell if they aren't baptized. First, the kids could always be baptized later in life if they make an independent choice to do so and people do a lot of things that can send them to hell. If your daughter moves in with her bf at the age of 20, grandma doesn't have a right to drag her out of the apartment kicking and screaming all the way to confession.
posted by whoaali at 11:04 PM on December 27, 2007 [1 favorite]


N-thing the "hit up the Rabbi", y'know Athiest with Southern Babtist upraising, Methodist grandparents, Presbyterian minister uncle.... had the opportunity to slightly integrate into Jewish community.... I'd hit up a Rabbi in an instant. Even being the non-Jew, I would still hit up the Rabbi for religious things.
posted by zengargoyle at 11:05 PM on December 27, 2007


Basically, this comes down to one big question in my eyes - was this a control thing or a "I'm saving my precious grandkids from eternal damnation" thing?
if the former, it's a BIG DEAL, for obvious reasons
if the latter, it's still an issue, but less of one, and one that has already been thoroughly discussed.
posted by The Esteemed Doctor Bunsen Honeydew at 11:36 PM on December 27, 2007


I believe your MIL has shown herself to be anti-semitic, and you should file that information, and never forget it. With the information at hand, I think you should consult your wife first, and then work together towards a solution -- which I think should include confronting the MIL with her arrogant and interfering actions. Clearly, she knew it was wrong and against your wishes, otherwise she would have called and said "hey, how about we go save those souls". I really think you need to consider nipping this in the bud - she may have more interfering, arrogant interventions in her mental pipeline.
posted by Rumple at 11:36 PM on December 27, 2007


The actual baptism itself is, of course, meaningless; how can someone be baptized against their will? (I had a teenage friend who insisted he'd baptised me in a drinking fountain, which is obviously stupid.)

The idea of baptism is washing sins away, and it has to be voluntary. Your kids weren't old enough to choose; thus, the ritual was for your mother-in-law's benefit, not theirs. Whatever she feels, if those kids don't choose Christianity, a claimed baptism is irrelevant.

I agree with the comments upthread that this has to be taken seriously, however, as your MIL has hugely overstepped her bounds. This particular ritual didn't mean a damn thing, but she's shown that she disrespects your religion and your right to choose for your children.

I disagree with the 'anti-Semitism' idea, though; that word is thrown around constantly where it's not warranted. I have little doubt that she'd have done the same thing if you were atheist or Buddhist or Muslim. She's almost certainly anti-everything-that's-not-Christian, not anti-Semitic in particular.

Still, I can't imagine many things more profoundly disrespectful of another family. Despite the lack of actual harm, I feel that 'fury' would be an entirely appropriate emotion. I agree with the suggestions that they never again be left alone with her.
posted by Malor at 12:05 AM on December 28, 2007 [1 favorite]


Tell your wife. Confront your mother-in-law and ask what happened. If the allegations are substantiated, explain politely that you and your wife are in charge of the religious education of your children, and that if she wants access to her grandchildren in the future, she must respect that. End of story.
posted by Krrrlson at 12:13 AM on December 28, 2007


This happened to a Jewish friend of ours whose stepfather baptized her in secret. When her mother found out, she told the stepfather that she was so glad she found out in time to take the children to the mikvah to wash off the effects of the baptism (which she never really did, of course). And once the stepfather started thinking there was a countermeasure to his actions, he didn't try again.
posted by yellowcandy at 12:17 AM on December 28, 2007 [2 favorites]


The actual baptism itself is, of course, meaningless; how can someone be baptized against their will?

I agree it is meaningless, however, a number of Christian sects (e.g., Anglicans) routinely baptise infants, myself included.
posted by Rumple at 1:30 AM on December 28, 2007


I find what your MIL did outrageous, and my sense of justice demands she be punished for it, but I also think your ultimate goal ought to be to reintegrate your mother-in-law back into the family and your good graces for the sake of your wife and ultimately your children-- if possible.

If you and your wife are the only ones confronting her, there is a good chance she will defy you openly, out of pride and a mistaken belief that she serves her faith, as she has already defied you in secret. I believe you can only be sure of preventing such an outcome if her own church tells her she acted wrongly. Your best chance of accomplishing this would seem to be finding a prominent Rabbi who is engaged in some kind of interfaith dialog with her church, and enlisting his help to approach a level of authority in her church to go with you to explain to her that what she did was a sin (pride, the deadliest) and that she must own up to it and make things right with you and your family. She will be both humbled and humiliated (as she deserves to be) and if the perfidious Priest is outed and reprimanded as well, so much the better.

Should the hierarchy of her church dig in its heels at such a request, you and your Rabbi will know them for who and what they are, you wife will have yet more evidence of the wisdom of her conversion, and you may be able to forgive your MIL more readily because she acted under their corrupting influence.
posted by jamjam at 1:47 AM on December 28, 2007 [3 favorites]


I have siblings who are fundamentalist christian and throughout my childhood they tried to recruit me into their beliefs, covertly without my parents knowing. When I was in 3rd grade, one of my sisters made me testify and take Jesus as my Lord & Savior. The thing is, I said what she wanted really just because I wanted to make her happy... knowing that what I was doing didn't have any power over what I believed for myself. It didn't affect anything inside of me. They were just so worried about my salvation they just couldn't resist trying to steer me towards the direction they wanted and so I tried to make them feel better. While I understood where they were coming from, it didn't make me join them in the end because I simply didn't agree with the things they believed in.

It wasn't good that she went behind your back, but she believes in something and she wanted to share it with the children because she loves them. She may have been selfish and covert, but people do stupid stuff when they're trying to make their God happy. I would try to forgive her. It's not exactly news that religion can make people act stupidly and trying to hide her beliefs from your children might work against you in various ways. So if you can, teach your children to respect their grandmother and what she believes. Educate them, even if it isn't what you ascribe to, and teach them tolerance. Make it clear that while she believes something different, you all love her unconditionally and her beliefs mean something to her so they should be respected. Loving their grandmother and wanting to make her happy doesn't equal having to agree with her.

I've sat through many many church events that made my skin crawl... but it made my family members feel good that I did so for them, and sometimes that's important. They are unhappy that I'm not going to change, but they do appreciate that I will go out of my comfort zones to support them. One of my favorite sayings is: "You have to choose your battles... they should be big enough to matter and small enough to win." Fighting my family member's religious beliefs is not one I'm going to win, so I just offer them little victories to keep the peace.

The thing is... your children's God is still theirs. It doesn't matter what building they're in or who they're sitting next to, it's still within them. It doesn't matter if someone splashed water on them. No doubt they know they're being raised Jewish, so that's what they are. For the time being, they are in your religious tribe. Period. When they're older, just like your wife they may decide to convert to something else. For all you know, they might not choose to end up practicing Judaism as adults. But that'll be their choice, and it won't be your mother in law's fault. You don't know what your children are going to end up believing, but I'm sure this baptism will have nothing whatsoever to do with it.
posted by miss lynnster at 3:10 AM on December 28, 2007 [1 favorite]


your children's souls are safe. as far as you, they, and the church are concerned, your mother-in-law said a prayer over your kids and gave them a bath.

the problem is that your mother-in-law didn't respect your faith or her own daughter's decision to embrace that faith. you might want to talk to the priest about that and see if he has any suggestions about family counseling. he sounds like a reasonable guy and would be willing to help her deal with her feelings. you also need to deal with your feeling that she has undermined the religion you have established in your home. maybe she did it out of misguided love.

speaking as the child of a convert, i can say that there are a lot of secretly-baptized jewish children of mixed marriages out there. it's okay. there are a lot more challenges facing jewish traditions these days than secret baptism.
posted by thinkingwoman at 4:36 AM on December 28, 2007


Catholics believe that the unbaptized will not get into Heaven, so a secret home baptism makes perfect sense to them. Unlike other denominations, baptism involves no personal profession of belief, except by proxy.

The place where unbaptized infants go is not Purgatory, but rather Limbo. Or at least it used to be. Limbo was devised as an alternative to Heaven or Hell, in recognition of the fact that the theology of original sin and baptism led to incomprehensible results in many cases.

Now Catholic theologians have decided Limbo does not exist, but they have not specified what happened to its billions of presumed inhabitants. Their most recent pronouncement is, in essence, they have no idea but they hope that God will provide for them in some fashion. See the Wikipedia entry on Limbo for more on this fascinating subject.
posted by megatherium at 4:44 AM on December 28, 2007


You're real problem is what this represents. Your MIL has affirmatively shown that she does not respect your role as your children's parents and when she disagrees with you, she believes she has the moral authority to do whatever the hell she wants to. This means no more unsupervised trips to grandma's. Keep it short and sweet, tell her what has done is categorically unacceptable and that she has proven she cannot be trusted alone with your children. Time with the grandkids will now be reserved for family get togethers, the occasional (non christian) holiday and other special events.

I absolutely agree with this. I find it hard to imagine she thinks she has saved the children from hell simply by baptizing them, and there is the real possibility that she is pushing Christianity on them in other ways. Even if this isn't the case, her behavior was no minor breach, it was a fundamental statement that she will go behind your back when she feels her religion demands it, and this is deeply troubling. I think the others in this thread are wrong to dismiss it so lightly.
posted by Astro Zombie at 5:03 AM on December 28, 2007 [5 favorites]


Well, I think it all depends on the person. I don't know her so I can't say whether or not she's really plotting for your children's souls or not. But I do know people who simply couldn't allow their grandchild to bypass baptism, although they wouldn't make much effort to convert them in other ways. They would just really really want that base covered.
posted by miss lynnster at 5:16 AM on December 28, 2007


I agree with those stating that this isn't a metaphysical crisis (though talking to your Rabbi will probably bring you some piece of mind in that regard), but it's an watershed moment in your life. You just found out that your MIL cannot be trusted and doesn't respect you or your faith. Use this information wisely.

You're going to have to bring your wife into this though. You can plausibly downplay it, and just be wary, in the sake of family harmony. You can plausibly tell her to piss off and never speak to her again. You can do anything in between those extremes. But you'd best be prepared to do it together.
posted by stevis23 at 5:19 AM on December 28, 2007


It's your wife's MOTHER. Your wife needs to know about this, and she needs to participate in figuring out what to do about it. Holding this in isn't going to do you any good, she's your wife and will figure out something's up eventually when you are uncomfortable around your MIL.

I think that you should let it go, but consider yourself warned as to what kind of people you are dealing with, as others have said. That's part of why your wife needs to know about this, so that your effort to protect the kids from them-- if necessary-- is a united one.
posted by hermitosis at 5:22 AM on December 28, 2007 [1 favorite]


Wow.

1. The MIL isn't necessarily anti-semitic. We don't know her, we can't say. However, the act of secret baptisms has a long history (those three links span a millenium) ripe with anti-semitism. So it's easy to see how one can interpret her action as laden with a particular anti-Jewish bent.

2. I'm rather aghast by all the comments that say if you believe it's empty, it shouldn't matter. Aghast, but not surprised. Yes, yes, it's disrespectful, and oversteps boundaries, and all that. But even on the face of it - it's wrong. I strongly disagree that the OP is not recognizing the *real* problem. There are several levels to the problem here. Yes, the children's souls might be "safe," and there might be "great problems out there" - but that doesn't make *this* instance any less offensive.

Take another example -- say the MIL felt that cremation was the best way to ensure a person's passage to Heaven. She digs up and cremates some bodies. It's an empty gesture. A corpse is a corpse, right? It certainly doesn't effect their soul. It shouldn't "matter" on any existential level, it would just be a overstepping of boundaries.

No! It's disrespecting the dead -- which, in our society, is a tremendous taboo, even though it's "empty" and might have not metaphysical repercussions. Most of us would consider this a BIG deal.

So if we place such tremendous importance on respecting the dead (see: funerals, burials, how much we spend on death and the death industry, etc.) even though the dead don't care what they're in, why is it ridiculous to be offended by clandestine rites on the living? Even the ones that are 'empty.'

As a religious Jew, I also believe that being baptized doesn't *change* the children. However, it offends me to my core. Because religious identification is *not* empty to me, and religious rituals - as a rule - are *not* empty to me.


3. @three blind mice The problem, dear sir, is religious faith. All faith. Insisting that your wife convert to your system of irrational beliefs before you would marry her? How romantic.
Seriously? First, aside from snide and offensive, how does this possibly help your 'dear sir' in the slightest?

The problem is all faith? Again: Seriously? I'd posit that the problem is dogmatic beliefs - including the belief that all faith is a problem. That kind of arrogant certainty is the driving principle of hatred. Yes, religious people do demonstrate it, even often, but it is not *essential* to religion. And, as you demonstrate, three blind mice, it exists outside the world of faith as well.

You say that religious beliefs "insult reason". Well, isn't the point of "belief" and "faith" the fact that it is independent from reason? So saying that faith can be "destructed" with "logic and reason" is sort of circular. Of course it can. That's where the leap of faith comes in. Fine, you don't want to take the leap. Cool. But why be hating on those that do?


4. In terms of what to do next. I agree with the advice to speak to a rabbi. If you need help locating one, please mefi mail me with your location, and I can try to dig around for some names. I'd imagine that it might be a good idea to tell your wife, though it's hard to say without knowing her and her relationship with her mother. I would also expect that confronting the MIL is a good idea. She should know that you know, and that you won't stand for these shenanigans; that you take it as personally offensive. Sure, you can understand her intentions, but the decision is not hers to make.

5. Good luck. This is probably very, very troubling and terribly confusing. I wish you and your family all the best!
posted by prophetsearcher at 5:58 AM on December 28, 2007 [4 favorites]


[a few comments removed -- please keep the comments off the topic of "wacky religious people in general" and formly on this topic otherwise go to metatalk, thank you.]
posted by jessamyn at 5:59 AM on December 28, 2007


I haven't seen this mentioned above, but are you certain that a priest was involved? In certain circumstances, Catholics believe they all have the ability to baptize (for instance, if someone is dying and no priest is available, or if a parent of an infant won't have it done). It's pretty simple -- you just say "I baptize you in the name of the father and of the son and of the holy spirit. Amen." In my family, this gets done the first time my mother holds the new baby. I know she does it because she truly believes babies need to be baptized to go to heaven. The fact that she did it without telling you, is, I think, not a testament to her being anti-semitic, or even trying to be sneaky with you. She just decided not to fight the battle with you, in some ways respecting your faith, while still fulfilling her own. I'm sure if she had asked you to do it, you would have said no, and she knew that. I understand why you're upset... but please talk to her about it.
posted by dpx.mfx at 6:03 AM on December 28, 2007


Something I should have said earilier:

The person who really screwed up here is the pastor/priest. No Christian clergyperson worth his or her salt should have baptized a child without speaking to the child's parents. From time to time, I get calls from grandparents about baptizing children, and I was trained to always, always, always, say "Have the child's parents call me," and then meet with them if they are interested.

Were I in your shoes, at least some of my ire would be directed at the clergyperson, who seems to have a rather (imho) sloppy sacramental theology.
posted by 4ster at 6:06 AM on December 28, 2007


Chalk this up to the annals of wacky family history. Honestly, this is more of a great dinner-party story than this is something you need to get and stay furious about.

I understand you want to counteract the excessive responses here, but this is way overboard in the other direction. Regardless of the fact that baptism is just sprinkling some water and muttering some mumbo-jumbo, the mother-in-law is clearly untrustworthy and there's no telling what else she might do. Sure, the odds are against her going any further, but that's really not good enough when your kids are involved; the odds are against their being injured if you just put them in the back seat and go for a drive, but you strap them into their kiddie seat anyway. This is not "a great dinner-party story," this is a blinking red light.

The person who really screwed up here is the pastor/priest.


Yes, however you decide to approach the mother-in-law, you should make sure that idiot gets called to account. He seems to think he's one of God's Secret Agents. Surprise, it's not the sixteenth century any more!

Good luck to you, anon; I hope this works out without too much angst for you and your family. It's a nasty situation.
posted by languagehat at 6:31 AM on December 28, 2007


Of course, Judaism has its own immersion rituals surrounding the mikveh, which adds an entirely different point of view to this issue. A clever rabbi will mention this to you when you speak to him/her, and will highlight the outgrowth of Christianity from Judaism. A good rabbi will also forego the old testament fire and brimstone for a calm, rational approach to how to handle this very serious issue of trust with MIL.

If I were advising you (IANAR), I would suggest that you share this information on Jewish ritual immersion and Christianity's outgrowth from Judaism with MIL, and then express your deepest regrets that she felt the need to behave in such a childish manner - and your forward-going expectation that she respect your role as spiritual advisors for your children. I would also let her know that you look forward to working with her to regain your trust in her.

Speak to your wife. Then speak to your rabbi. But before all of that, take a lot of deep breaths.
posted by greekphilosophy at 7:23 AM on December 28, 2007


I think religion has very little to do with the basic problem here, which is that your mother-in-law decided on her own to circumvent your choices as a parent. That should be the basis for discussion. I'd leave the issue of religion out of it completely, in part because it stokes those old fires of religious persecution, and the only thing worse than a meddling mother-in-law is a meddling mother-in-law with a martyr complex. I'd simply verify the ground rules that any decisions made about your children, while they are children, are yours alone.
posted by troybob at 7:35 AM on December 28, 2007


I'm going to have to side with the "no more visits with Grandma" group.

Regardless of the anti-semitism angle (which I honestly don't think we can judge, given the information), the reality of the situation is that your MIL seems to think that she has a right to overrule the decisions you make regarding your children's upbringing. To me, the religious aspect of this isn't even really the issue here; you made a decision about an important part of your children's lives, and she has gone behind your back in an attempt (however "well intentioned") to override that.

The two things you need to do are as follows:

1. Tell your wife.

2. Inform your MIL that she is no longer allowed unsupervised access to your children, as she clearly cannot be trusted.
posted by tocts at 7:38 AM on December 28, 2007 [2 favorites]


Everyone seems to be very politically correct around here, so I'm just going to go ahead and say it. This All I really know is that this was done swiftly with an at-home kit. is horseshit. No serious Christian faith allows baptism by non-priests with "in home kits". And No serious Christian faith would allow an MIL to do this without bothparents present, especially in a situation where one parent converted to their spouse's religion. What you are dealing with here is mumbo jumbo Christianity lite with no historical tradition behind it and no real significance beyond the temporary empowerment of the perpetually fearful. Sorry if this offends, but I would be amazed if turns out that the Christianity in question here is Catholicism or Orthodoxy, or a main line protestant faith. Those churches have so many rules about this kind of thing and they don't take baptism lightly. If it is one of those, you would be doing a benefit to the other members of that faith and that diocese by reporting the priest to his "boss", i.e. bishop or whoever. In those faiths, these would be illegal baptisms which priests shouldn't be performing or encouraging.

Secondly, you're jewish, so the dripping of water or whatever on the kids' oblivious heads has no religious significance. In a way this reminds me of Christians who believe Harry Potter teaches witchcraft. So does that mean they think witchcraft is actually real? That the devil can really give you magic powers? If so, I want some magic powers, where do I sign up.

Think of this as if your MIL secretly gave them a bath (which is still a problem which I will get to in a moment).

The anger you are feeling is probably a combination of her dismissing your religious faith, either as trivial or worse as wrong, and you are right to be offended by this.

The way to deal with this is to have your wife confront her mom and bring the hammer down. If you do it, she'll actually be emboldened because you are the other and you represent the OTHER she's protecting her grandkids against. Also, there may be an issue here that you aren't aware of which is that maybe MIL proceeded because she thought her daughter's conversion was weak. It sounds like this would be a misconception on her part, but this is yet another reason for your daughter to be the one to bring it up.

Talk to your rabbi to make sure their isn't some ritual in your faith to address surreptitious Christian baptism.

Your real problem, the one that will come up time and time again in contexts other than religion, is that your MIL is an asshole, to put it bluntly. She wants some say in the lives of her grandkids. Too bad. She is going to second guess every serious decision you make about your kids. You want to put the kids in private school? Don't be surprised when she turns up with application already filled out to schools you would never consider sending your kids to. Kids sick for "too long"? Don't be surprised if she tries to sneak them off to a doctor or if she comes back with recommendations from doctors she talked to, and then pesters you or your wife incessantly to follow her advice to the exclusion of all others.

Your mother in law needs to hear in no uncertain terms that she has no power or authority over your kids (and you need to be prepared to deliver the same message to your mother). She gets to see them at your pleasure and convenience, and that if you AND your wife have to both agree to let her come over and see them.

She had her chance to screw up her own kids, now it's your turn.
posted by Pastabagel at 7:43 AM on December 28, 2007 [3 favorites]


Perhaps in the serial tellings of what really happened with MIL and baby (MIL to A, A to B, B to anon), events got exaggerated or distorted. This may be particularly likely if A, B, or anon is unfamiliar with the rituals of MIL's church, and confused certain events with "baptism." Several people here have suggested that the "baptism" was really just MIL, baby, and some holy water, sans priest. But is it also possible that MIL merely decided to take the kid to a mass and there asked a priest for a blessing of the baby -- and afterwards, A, B, or Anon mistook that for a baptism? In light of that possibility, I'd take things in this order: (1) anon tells wife his understanding of the story, (2) anon and/or wife calmly get MIL's side of what exactly she did and why she did it, (3) anon and his wife talk to rabbi, (4) then anon and/or wife deal with MIL as they deem appropriate (bringing down hammer, laughing it off, etc).
posted by hhc5 at 7:48 AM on December 28, 2007 [1 favorite]


i don't think the baptism has any religious significance whatsoever. you can't undo judaism by making the sign of the cross on somebody; jews are much different from vampires.

the social significance is another story. your mother-in-law has basically just crapped on your faith. i would excommunicate her from my family.
posted by bruce at 7:54 AM on December 28, 2007


This IS a nasty situation, and it has many levels to it. When I'm faced with a layer-cake of a problem, I find it useful to tease the layers apart. Sometimes, each layer needs to be addressed in a a different way. If you try to confront the all the layers at once, the problem can seem unsolvable. Also, once I've sub-divided the problem, I realize that I care more about one aspect of it than another, and so I focus on that.

If I were in your shoes, I'd start by -- temporarily -- eliminating religion from the situation. The religious element is very important, but it's such an emotional issue, it may cloud some other stuff. Remember, I said "temporarily." We'll get back to religion, shortly.

With that in mind, consider this situation: Bob says, "My wife and I are vegetarians. We've raised our kids to be vegetarians. Now, I find out that my mother-in-law has been feeding them hamburgers." What advice would you give Bob? I'm assuming here that you don't have strong feelings about vegetarianism. If you do, forget about that and supply some other example. ("My wife and I don't let the kids watch TV. I just found out that my mother-in-lay lets them watch cartoons!")

The key here is that MIL has...

a) knowingly violated your rules
b) done so surreptitiously

That aspect of the problem has nothing to do with religion. I'm an atheist, and I would have been upset merely by the violation-of-trust and the dishonesty.

Okay, so how would I deal with it? I would try to assess whether it was a one-time-thing or a repeat offense (or something likely to become a repeat offense). For instance, is MIL feeding the kids hamburgers all the time or was it a one-time thing? If it was a single lapse of judgement, I might react differently than if it's a pattern.

Of course, I can't really know for sure whether the lapse was an isolated incident or not. I'll have to rely on judgment and intuition. And I'm NOT saying that, even if it is a one-time offense, the offender should be forgiven. I'm just saying that it's worthwhile taking this datapoint into account. In short: did MIL violate my wishes this one time? Or, now that I know about this, is it clear that MIL is the sort of person who will continually violate my wishes? In the latter case, I absolutely have to confront her about it. In the former, it's more complicated. I need to take into account the damage I may cause by making a big stink about it. I may very well make the stink, but I'll have to perform some mental calculus first.

Another complication: what -- in my best estimation -- was MIL's motive for feeding my kids hamburgers? Was it...?

a) a sincere belief that they weren't being fed a healthy diet
b) a passive-aggressive power play

It might be a mixture of the two, but my question is whether or not b plays a part. Even if it doesn't, you're not required to forgive and forget. It's up to you whether or not you're going to take motive into account. Personally, I would. At the very least, it would color how I handled a confrontation: "I know you were just doing what you thought was best, but..." vs. "They're MY kids and I make the rules!"

The next problem: did MIL harm the children? As an atheist, it's hard for me to see how she SPIRITUALLY harmed them. As someone who grew up in a Jewish family (and can somewhat get inside the Jewish mindset), it's still hard for me to see it.

As a faithful Jew, do you believe that other religions have any powers at all? Or do you believe that they are mumbo-jumbo? Does "Thou shalt have no other gods..." mean that no other gods exist or that other gods DO exist and should be avoided?

I suspect that many people are internally divided on this issue. Intellectually, they don't believe that baptism means anything. They know it's an empty ritual. But they can't help FEELING otherwise.

If that's how you feel -- if you feel like something specific and "magical" was done to your kids -- even though you know, intellectually, that it wasn't, that's nothing to be ashamed about. That's a natural feeling. In spite of our intellects, we're often affected by empty ritual. Even ritual that's not native to our traditions.

I don't have a concrete suggestion here, other than that you should give this some thought. Others here have wisely suggested that you talk to a Rabbi. I like that idea a lot.

I'm concerned about more worldly harm your MIL may have done to your kids. How old are they? Do they know about this? I don't think she caused them harm by swaying them against their faith. One ritual is not enough to do that. (And your kids are going to meet all sorts of forces that might sway them one way or another. That's part of growing up and living in the world.) I'm concerned that they're possibly being used as pawns in a power game, that they might be aware of this (or become aware of it when they're older) and that this might harm them. Even if MIL was sincere, they might be harmed. They might get confused between MIL's desire to do them good vs. mom-and-dad's desire anger at MIL. "Won't somebody think of the CHILDREN?!?"

Finally, about Person A and Person B: if I were either one of them, a quick word from you would really help. "You were in a really tough position, and I don't blame you at all for telling/not-telling me."

My thoughts are with you!
posted by grumblebee at 7:58 AM on December 28, 2007 [1 favorite]


It wasn't good that she went behind your back, but she believes in something and she wanted to share it with the children because she loves them.

Yes, and it doesn't really matter what that something is. Maybe that something is an enjoyment of hunting, and their grandmother wants to share that with them. Maybe it's a religious faith, as in this case. Maybe it's a racial hatred that the grandparent thinks is very important and needs to be shared with the kid. It. Doesn't. Matter.

What matters is that the mother in law thought it was okay to take the kids and secretly do something with them that she knew that their father would seriously disapprove of. That marks her as untrustworthy. Especially the secret part.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 8:10 AM on December 28, 2007 [1 favorite]


Everyone gets so hung up on religion.

Here's a hypothetical situation to base your reactions against.

What if you were raising your kids as vegans and your MIL snuck some meat into their food when they were over her house? This would be a violation of trust and show a complete disregard for your wishes. You probably would tell your MIL and not allow your kids to eat with her unsupervised. But you shouldn't do anything unilaterally.

You need to tell your wife. Then you need to have a frank discussion with your MIL. You can't "undo" the baptism. It really doesn't mean anything to you from a religious perspective. Had your kids asked grandma to be baptized, there would be a whole host of issues. But this is simply a matter of setting some stricter boundaries.

While I don't think going to your rabbi, her priest or the local papers is imperative, your first step is to talk to your wife and jointly decide what if anything you are going to do about this.
posted by MCTDavid at 8:22 AM on December 28, 2007


A lot of people seem to assume the mother in law is Catholic, but I didn't see where her religion was mentioned. That is relevant because the process and meaning of baptism vary widely across faiths. In many denominations that practice infant baptism the true meaning of the ritual is that it gives an opportunity for the parents and community to take an oath to raise the child as a Christian; if that is the case here then you can be assured she wants to push the religion on them in other ways.

When all have been presented the Celebrant asks the parents and godparents

Will you be responsible for seeing that the child you present is brought up in the Christian faith and life?

Parents and Godparents

I will, with God's help.

Celebrant

Will you by your prayers and witness help this child to grow into the full stature of Christ?

Parents and Godparents

I will, with God's help.

from the Episcopal rite of baptism

If, on the other hand she merely wanted to keep them out of limbo (that was my wife's grandmother's concern about our daughter) then the baptism itself may have been all there was. Still disrespectful but not as bad as making a vow to raise your kids in a different religion.

You mention your kids are proud of their religion; that tells me they are old enough to have an opinion on the baptism issue, so they might get involved in the discussion at some point as well, although talking to wife and rabbi first is reasonable. Also the suggestion above that you might need more facts is good; since this information is beyond second hand, the facts may have gotten twisted somewhere. It would be nice if that were the case and things are not as bad as they seem.
posted by TedW at 8:22 AM on December 28, 2007


I'll chime in as one of the rabbis (surely not the only one!?) here on MeFi.

Religiously, as most people have correctly recognized, the issue here is not the religious significance of the act of baptism. "Holy water" is not "holy" for us Jews, and so the act is not religiously efficacious for us.

Jewish kids who are surreptitiously baptized do not need to be religiously "cleansed" or "redeemed" in any way, and their religious status is not affected by the act. They're still just as Jewish as they were before that ritual.

That said, however, there were some significant lapses in judgment here, as has already been pointed out. The MIL made a huge mistake, and the pastor really dropped the ball by condoning (or conducting) the baptism behind the parents' backs. I think that those two errors require two separate courses of action.

First, something needs to be said to the pastor. Your rabbi would probably be happy to have that conversation with him as colleagues. Healthy religious communities do not condone these kinds of shenanigans between houses of worship.

Second - once again - there needs to be a frank and honest conversation between the OP, his wife, and his MIL. She needs to know why she overstepped her bounds, and, if necessary, it needs to be made clear that there may be consequences for this episode - or at least for future transgressions of this kind. Again, a good rabbi or family therapist can also help facilitate this conversation.

Finally, I'll just throw this out there:
Although a visit to the mikveh is not religiously mandated by halakha for these Jewish kids, I would probably suggest it as a possibility if this family belonged to my congregation. Taking part in that ceremony, and re-centering the whole family in Jewish communal ritual, could be a wonderfully fulfilling - and healing - act for everyone involved.

I'd be happy to share other resources if the OP - or anyone else - would like.
posted by AngerBoy at 8:34 AM on December 28, 2007 [3 favorites]


It was disrespectful. But it was also a person sprinkling a child with water, and saying a prayer. Being prayed over/for can only be good. Make sure she understands she may not indoctrinate your child into her religion. If she involved a priest, then ask your rabbi to talk to the priest. This would be very wrong of a priest to subvert the wishes of the parents this way. All in all, address the disrespect, then forgive and move on.
posted by theora55 at 8:41 AM on December 28, 2007 [1 favorite]


Everyone seems to be very politically correct around here, so I'm just going to go ahead and say it. This All I really know is that this was done swiftly with an at-home kit. is horseshit. No serious Christian faith allows baptism by non-priests with "in home kits". And No serious Christian faith would allow an MIL to do this without bothparents present, especially in a situation where one parent converted to their spouse's religion. What you are dealing with here is mumbo jumbo Christianity lite with no historical tradition behind it and no real significance beyond the temporary empowerment of the perpetually fearful. Sorry if this offends, but I would be amazed if turns out that the Christianity in question here is Catholicism or Orthodoxy, or a main line protestant faith. Those churches have so many rules about this kind of thing and they don't take baptism lightly. If it is one of those, you would be doing a benefit to the other members of that faith and that diocese by reporting the priest to his "boss", i.e. bishop or whoever. In those faiths, these would be illegal baptisms which priests shouldn't be performing or encouraging.

Religious affiliations aren't like a college degree, where if the university isn't accredited it isn't a real degree. Smaller denominations aren't less "serious" and are certainly not necessarily "lite." Yes, "real" Christian faiths can permit baptism at home. I wonder how familiar you are with Christianity.

Anyway, since the OP mentions a priest, it's safe to assume that this is Catholic or Episcopal baptism. More likely Catholic. While certainly it is not the accepted procedure to baptize at home without the parents, priests have a long history of making such accommodations. Yes, to devalue the Jewishness of the children. Doesn't mean the MIL or priest is a rabid, hate-spewing anti-Semite. It does mean that they are anti-Jewish.
posted by desuetude at 8:42 AM on December 28, 2007 [1 favorite]


How is this mocking your religion? You're taking this way too seriously. Your MIL was afraid that your kids would go to hell if they were not baptized - give her a break over this one, unless she otherwise takes your religion for granted. You were never meant to know - if you person B (who was a moron for telling you BTW) never told you this, would you have known? Your MIL putting your kids into water is no big deal if it saves her from the torment of thinking your kids are damned.
posted by sid at 8:43 AM on December 28, 2007


You're real problem is what this represents. Your MIL has affirmatively shown that she does not respect your role as your children's parents and when she disagrees with you, she believes she has the moral authority to do whatever the hell she wants to.

Ding ding ding.

It's the lack of respect that's the problem. And what that entails is discussing the lack or respect, and lack of trust, openly and candidly. The poster's m-i-l may never fully respect him. Life is like that. But that doesn't mean the kids can be trusted with grandma, since grandma has done something that disrespects who those children are, and has done something to try and make them 'less their father's'. She probably doesn't recognise her daughter's conversion.
posted by holgate at 9:03 AM on December 28, 2007 [2 favorites]


What your mother-in-law did is disrespectful to you and your wife, but ultimately harmless. If she believes that baptism is necessary to salvation, she probably was just trying to ensure a place in heaven for her grandkids. I think it's bullshit and you're right to be peeved, but it's probably not worth starting a feud over. You may want to have a calm talk with her at some point to make sure she is not interfering with your right to raise your children as you see fit and to make sure she is not proselytizing your kids.

If you have Netflix, rent Curb Your Enthusiasm, Season 2, and watch episode 19 ("The Baptism") for a laugh and for some perspective. I also recommend Season 5, eiposde 43 ("The Jesus Nail").
posted by mds35 at 9:06 AM on December 28, 2007


I notice that a lot of people are ascribing all kinds of motives to the MIL, and reading her thoughts: she's uncomfortable with Judaism, she's a nice person who just wants to help out the grandkids in a way that makes sense to her, she doesn't recognize her daughter's conversion, she thinks she can do whatever the hell she wants. Whatever!

Certainly, talk to the wife first. But what about talking to the MIL, not in a confrontational, angry way, but asking her what was going on for her when she did this? She's the one who knows. Listen to her reasoning, her feelings, and so on. Try to just listen. Ask questions for clarification or elaboration, but otherwise try not to respond, even if she gets defensive and emotional. Thank her for talking to you about it. Then go away and think about what she said. Take some time. You'd have a lot better understanding of what it meant to her to do this, and you can take some time to let your own feelings settle out before responding. But at least you'd have a chance of responding authentically to what really happened rather than from your assumptions and hurt feelings, and the guesses of a bunch of people on the internet.

Also, by listening to the MIL without letting it turn into an argument, you'll set the stage for her being able to listen to you when you do give her your response. She'll be much more likely to be able to hear and honor your request that she not do anything like this ever again if she feels like she's been heard.
posted by not that girl at 9:10 AM on December 28, 2007 [1 favorite]


Religious affiliations aren't like a college degree, where if the university isn't accredited it isn't a real degree. Smaller denominations aren't less "serious" and are certainly not necessarily "lite." Yes, "real" Christian faiths can permit baptism at home. I wonder how familiar you are with Christianity.

Very familiar, thank you very much. Smaller denominations are less institutional, by definition. They have fewer rules, less structure, and are more prone to reactionary behavior than more established Christian denominations. There is no church that takes its role in society as seriously as the catholic church. I didn't say its faith, I said its role in society.

Again, I would be very surprised if this priest here was catholic. This statement is silly: "priests have a long history of making such accommodations. Yes, to devalue the Jewishness of the children. " They may have a thousand year history of doing this, but that is irrelevant. Do they have a history of doing this in the last 30 years? No. The Catholic church knows that baptism without parental consent isn't a baptism, because that is written into their law. If the children are under 7, then for them to be baptized catholic, canon 868 requires one parent or legal guardian to be present AND that there be a hope that the child be raised Catholic. On what basis is there a reasonable hope of this is the parents don't even know about this, and they are Jewish?

If the children are older than seven then they would be baptized according to the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults, which is a considerably more involved and time consuming process than baptism for infants. Any Catholic priest with half a brain would have refused to do this without the parents present. If the priest is catholic, maybe all that happened is that the priest blessed the kid, and someone got the story wrong.

So, again, I doubt this was a Catholic priest, and if it was, it violates canon law and is not a Catholic baptism. In other words, in the eyes of the Catholic church, these kids would not have been baptized.

And to put a final point on it, the catholic church is not so superficial as to think that a baptism would make the kids less jewish. This isn't the 17th century.
posted by Pastabagel at 9:22 AM on December 28, 2007 [2 favorites]


TELL. YOUR. WIFE. Sweet Jesus (sorry :). This is her kids, her mother, her husband. And she's the only one who doesn't know this happened. Tell your wife. Do not pass go, do not talk to rabbi, do not talk to person A or person B, do not read up on the f-ing arcane views of the Catholic church on baptism. Tell your wife. You don't need to worry about any of the other advice or ideas because you have no business evaluating any of it without your wife.
posted by madmethods at 9:27 AM on December 28, 2007 [2 favorites]


Passive-aggressive response: Affix a mezuzah to her doorpost when she's not looking. When she asks you why you did it, you can ask her about the spritzing.
posted by mds35 at 9:28 AM on December 28, 2007 [5 favorites]


May I introduce...Helene Rosenbaum and the Dovetail Institute. Look them up, they have loads of interfaith family resources that completely fit this situation. The gist: you are not alone.
posted by parmanparman at 9:38 AM on December 28, 2007


Any Catholic priest with half a brain would have refused to do this without the parents present.

Any Catholic priest with half a brain wouldn't fuck children, but, well.

Given the extent to which violations of canon law on that order seem to plague the church, it's not crazy to think that more minor violations of canon law* occur even more frequently. That is, knowing that it would violate canon law for it to take place is no assurance *AT ALL* that it did not, in fact, take place.

I would absolutely not be astonished to find that some crotchety old Father who disliked Jews took it into his head to do such a thing for a parishioner he liked.

the catholic church is not so superficial as to think that a baptism would make the kids less jewish

Yes. It might, in the eyes of the church, make the kids less pagan or unpagan if they had been pagan, but it would not do anything to their Jewishness in the eyes of a liturgical church. At most, it would make them Christian Jews or Jewish Christians, which is not an oxymoron.

*IE, ones that wouldn't also land you in prison.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 9:45 AM on December 28, 2007


Nthing that you and your wife should treat this as a gross example of disrespect, and proceed accordingly. I would start by eliminating unsupervised contact between the children and grandma (and make sure she knows why).

If your MIL is what I suspect - a Catholic woman of a certain age - then she has a great deal of respect for (or perhaps fear of?) male authority figures. Therefore, a friendly visit from a male rabbi might shake her enough that she would be too afraid to say boo about her religion to your children ever again.
posted by SuperSquirrel at 9:52 AM on December 28, 2007


As someone who was forcibly baptized as a child by one parent against another parent's express wishes as part of a power play, I'd just like to point out that cutting someone slack because they are related can lead to really nasty problems, some of which might even (G_d forbid) end up in court.

But, you must have your facts straight before you do anything else. All I can tell from the original post is that you don't, and that you need help getting your emotions in check so you can get your facts straight.

Find someone you trust to help you with this in person. Bonus points if they are a rabbi or your wife (mega, extra bonus points if your wife is a rabbi, I guess).
posted by QIbHom at 9:56 AM on December 28, 2007


Very familiar, thank you very much. Smaller denominations are less institutional, by definition. They have fewer rules, less structure, and are more prone to reactionary behavior than more established Christian denominations. There is no church that takes its role in society as seriously as the catholic church. I didn't say its faith, I said its role in society.

What you said you said that no "serious" Christian faith would permit an authorized baptism. Yes, smaller denominations are less institutional and more reactionary, but it doesn't follow to characterize them as less serious . Anyway, as for the role of the church in society, and I'm not sure how the focus got switched to that, the last thirty years of the conservative mainline Protestant religions are giving the Catholic church a major run for their money. While Catholic schools all over the country, Christian day schools are multiplying. The loudest proponents of religion-in-daily-life are not Catholics anymore.

Again, I would be very surprised if this priest here was catholic. This statement is silly: "priests have a long history of making such accommodations. Yes, to devalue the Jewishness of the children. " They may have a thousand year history of doing this, but that is irrelevant. Do they have a history of doing this in the last 30 years? No.

I wasn't speaking of institutionalized church policy of unauthorized baptisms. But under the table? Oh, my, absolutely. In fact, several Jewish people in this thread mention how common this is.
posted by desuetude at 10:00 AM on December 28, 2007


I think in order to deal with this you need to think about what you ideally want to happen in the future.

Others have already stated the truth: as far as your kids are concerned, all that happened is they got a little wet. (Sorry to all you paedobaptists out there, but still.)

The real issue is your mother in law doing such a thing behind your back. If I were you I would look at her motivation first-is she meddlesome in general, or is she just freaked about the kids' eternal destiny? If simply the latter, please do try to take that into consideration before you bring the hammer down.

You do need to tell your wife, and you do need to talk to her mom if you forsee future problems of this sort. Now if you want to keep peace in the family, simply downpedal this and then keep a sharp eye on grandma-kid interactions. If, instead, this is simply the latest salvo in a culture war, time to draw the boundaries and make the walls THICK. Yet, still, please try to keep in mind that grandmas love their grandchildren, and vice versa, and all other things being equal it is still good if the relationships can continue.

I agree that what she did is very disrespectful to you and your family, and I also know from both a Christian and a Jewish perspective that this wetting of the children under these circumstances does NOTHING to save their souls. So basically grandma has risked pissing you off and affecting her access to the children over NOTHING.
posted by konolia at 10:22 AM on December 28, 2007


I actually wouldn't jump to the conclusion that the MIL is antisemitic. Despite the whole idea that good people go to heaven and bad people go to hell, for a lot of christians, it isn't that simple at all. She may think jews are going to hell, not because they are bad, but because they haven't accepted jesus as their lord and savior and/or been baptized. (I'm not saying this is theologically true or anything I have no idea, I'm just using it as an example, do not attack.) For some people, rituals like baptism, truly are the difference between heaven and hell.

Reminds me actually of an interview I saw with the main preacher that was in Jesus Camp. She had become very good friends with the two filmmakers. I believe one was Jewish and the other some other type of Christian (not born again). And they asked her do you think that means they are going to hell because they aren't born again/fundamentalist etc etc. And (I'm paraphrasing) her answer was essentially, well yeah I think they are, but it's not like I'm happy about it.

Believing that your way is the right way, doesn't necessarily means that you hate people of other faiths or that you think they are bad people. You may just think they are wrong.
posted by whoaali at 10:39 AM on December 28, 2007


I would suggest that you Over react to the Sneaktism. Just coordinate with your SO. You get all angry and forbid any contact of any kind between the kinds and ML over the issue. your SO gets to step in and broker the peace. ML knows you are serious. You get to get your angry on. and SO keeps ML.
posted by Megafly at 11:56 AM on December 28, 2007


I have to say I'm really appalled by the number of people who come in here with no background knowledge of the regularity of this betrayal and insist it's not that big a deal, or that it couldn't have really happened this way, or that this is an abberation. As I mentioned before, this is a trauma that has affected a significant number of Jewish families in this country and that the Catholic church (while others are implicated, none to this degree) has a very disgusting and recent history of this behavior. As far as I know (and I've never seen any data or read narratives that convince me otherwise) this does not happen to non-Jews in this country. This is not just the MIL trying to save her grandchildren, or do what she thinks is right, or serving hamburgers. Ultimately, the MIL has made her beliefs clear and she so strongly denigrates yours that she will put your children at risk.
posted by allen.spaulding at 12:00 PM on December 28, 2007 [3 favorites]


Thank you, Allen Spaulding. This will not, by some voodoo, make the kids Christian. But it's just as offensive as if it would have. The original poster clearly places a great deal of importance in the religion of him and his family. The Jewish people, in particular, have been subjected to this sort of thing for centuries, up to and including modern times. (I met a guy in Ukraine this summer who swore, swore, that only because of the Holocaust did the disappearance of Christian children in his area lessen. Because there were now no more Jews, there was no more need for virgin Christian blood to add to their Passover matzos! Needless to say, I was stunned.)

Are mother-in-law's actions anti-Semitic? Absolutely! They work against the Jewish faith, they denigrate the importance of that faith, they essentially confirm a belief on mother-in-law's part that Judaism is "lesser" and of such little consequence that it can and should be undermined when possible.

She hasn't killed anyone, but she certainly has tried to kill a crucial element of these kids' identity, and in an underhanded and deceitful way.

I wish I could have the peace of mind to live in a world where this sort of activity can be so blithely seen as being without consequence. Truly, ignorance must be bliss. But as Allen expresses, it's appalling that people "with no background knowledge of the regularity of this betrayal" exist in such plentitude, and are so willing to share their naive illusions. I am, of course, jealous of those who've obviously come from a long line of folks who've never lived at the end of a cultural (or literal) gun. But it's a little creepy that they have so little awareness of their own dumb luck.
posted by Dee Xtrovert at 1:28 PM on December 28, 2007 [4 favorites]


anonymous -- nothing to add other than that I'm on the side of those advising that you (and your wife) address the betrayal (i.e. involving your children in something without your knowledge and consent) by your mother-in-law whatever her intentions were. I agree with those who suggest that you tell your wife ASAP and the two of you discuss a course-of-action. After you've decided how the two of you want to proceed, I, too, think that your wife should be the one to have a calm discussion with her mother regarding your joint position, feelings, etc.

Whatever you do, I'd love to hear a follow-up. If you choose to share an update, I'm sure jessamyn would be willing to post such here on AskMe on your behalf.
posted by ericb at 1:40 PM on December 28, 2007


allen.spaulding - I am not trying to pick a fight with you, but I don't think people are coming in here saying that this isn't a betrayal. everyone realizes that this is a serious issue resulting in a serious lack of trust. part of some people's answers tend to be to downplay the seriousness of any situation, since it helps people cope to have some farther off perspective.

additionally, those downplaying this (really inappropriate) behavior are probably trying to provide some common ground for understanding. Obviously the OP has serious feelings on this issue, and valid ones, too. but the OP isn't going to get anywhere positive with MIL if he walks in mezuzahs blazing and challenges her to a "Judaism v. Christianity smackdown that will settle this whole silly Christ business once and for all!"

So - the same as people are asking the OP to do for MIL - cut people some slack and assume that everyone here is trying to provide helpful insight, not revisionist history with a twinge of apologetic hatemongering.
posted by greekphilosophy at 1:42 PM on December 28, 2007


Wow. All of these antisemitism and "she's trying to kill your children's identities" comments are mind blowing to me. I have relatives who are Fundamentalist, Mormon, Unitarian and all other brands of Christian and non-Christian. One of my sisters actually tried to join the Moonies at one point. As a kid, all of them were trying to influence me. Admittedly some people are more easily led than others, but none of them took a damn thing "away" from my soul or identity. Nor were they "anti" the other religions so much as they were just really, really, really pro their own.

The problem here is the deceit. And that, more than anything, lies in your relationship with the mother in law. It's not about her religion or yours so much as it's about mutual respect and communication that is lacking in a big way between the adults in this story. Maybe THAT'S what should really be addressed and worked on. Your kids are just pawns in a grown up battle that has little to do with God and more to do with control.
posted by miss lynnster at 1:50 PM on December 28, 2007


I see a lot of comments above urging you to talk to your wife and talk to your MIL, but want to also stress the need to talk to your children about this. Of course, how you want to discuss it may vary according to their age, but if they're staying there regularly, there may be other things going on that they haven't through to mention to you.

I'm not insinuating abuse or anything like that, just small things that are done differently in their grandparents' home, and that they'd never think to tell you. I was raised Unitarian/Agnostic, so it wasn't until one Christmas when I was 22 and we attended midnight mass with my step-grandmother (as a favor to her) that my mother discovered that I knew the lord's prayer by heart. I had been expected to say it every night that I stayed at Grandma's as a kid. Didn't bother me a bit or change my beliefs at all, and I never thought to mention it. It was just a silly thing that she wanted me to do and I didn't particularly care either way, but my parents had no idea.
posted by dizziest at 1:59 PM on December 28, 2007


Might I suggest that people who think a religious identity is just nonsense refrain from commenting in threads such as these. "It's all just malarky, so why are you getting your dumbass, apelike, primitive superstitious undies in a bundle?" comments don't seem especially helpful. Worse, their ignorant. I am a Jew and an atheist, and I'd be pretty pissed if my MIL did this, not because of superstition on my part, both as a Jew and an atheist, because, in both cases, the MIL had decided that her worldview was so much more valid than mine that it is all right for her to secretly impose her religion on my children.
posted by Astro Zombie at 2:32 PM on December 28, 2007 [4 favorites]


If someone forcibly baptized me, no matter how little I 'believed' in the ritual, I would be so angry. SO ANGRY. This act, forcible baptism/coerced conversion, has a long history for the Jewish people, and just because it doesn't seem like recent history to members of the current and historically dominant religious denominations doesn't mean it's ancient history for all of us.

What the mother in law did was forcibly baptize Jewish children. That's BAD. The bad guys *always* believed they were saving our souls - so? Forcible baptism/coercion is WRONG. It's not less wrong if it's done by a relative or to a small child.

How old were the kids? Old enough to remember? Then they need to be included in the conversation. Also, the MIL needs to be made to understand the significance of her actions. And since she clearly believes that Jews (including presumably you) are going to hell and it's reasonable for Christians to trick/force them into Christianity, I think her interactions with your grandchildren warrant extreme caution.

I don't think we're doing anybody any favors when we minimize these kinds of actions.
posted by Salamandrous at 2:46 PM on December 28, 2007 [1 favorite]


The main reason to nip this in the bud is to protect your children. I was the child of an interfaith marriage and it was decided early in my life I would be raised in the Jewish tradition. They divorced, and when I lived with my non-Jewish parent in an overwhelmingly Christian/Catholic/evangelical/utterly non-Jewish community, the religious pressure to convert was intense, in some cases from people in my own family. I had already considered both religious and non-religious alternatives to Jewish faith but that is an entirely different thing than having "well-meaning" adults pressure you to attend their church or tell you your dead grandparents are in Hell. As overly dramatic as it sounds that is what happened to me in modern America, also notwithstanding jeans and grunge.

I hope this experience convinces you (if you were not already convinced) to allow your kids do their own seeking and to protect them from other adults who would try to influence their choices through inappropriate acts like secret baptism or high-pressure proselytizing. Such gross tactics are not remotely the same as respectfully sharing aspects of your faith with a child, say in response to their questions about it, or asking permission of the parents to take them to a service to teach them about your traditions. I have experienced both approaches and I am pretty shocked that they are being conflated by so many people. The best explanation I have is that it mostly because of the unexamined privilege that many people who never experienced life as a religious minority among hostile people get to enjoy. As others have pointed out, what your mother-in-law did is freighted with some very specific and dark history in the US and the world over, and ignorance of it is no excuse.

My feeling is that you and your wife should gather the facts of what happened, and instead of reacting to it on your own, get together with her current priest and your rabbi (if you have one) to present her with a united front condemning this and explaining why such back-channel interference is so entirely inappropriate. There is way too much emphasis in the advice above on her presumed well-meaning motives and making peace. Peace is something that is brokered, not something that magically happens when you ignore conflict. Your mother-in-law should know in no uncertain terms what she did was offensive and manipulative and is unsupported by the doctrine of her religious community or yours, or by basic rules of common sense and courtesy. Not for the pride or hurt feelings of any of the adults involved, but for your children, who need to be protected from the further manipulation and pressure that she may attempt if unchecked.
posted by melissa may at 3:03 PM on December 28, 2007 [3 favorites]


This act, forcible baptism/coerced conversion, has a long history for the Jewish people...

But it also has a long history for the Catholic people -- most infants are baptized before they're old enough to remember; I think the church recommends doing it as soon as possible after the birth. If the grandmother is part of a church that baptizes infants (rather than adults), then it's not really her "tricking" the kids into Christianity, or "forcibly baptizing" them, any more than it was when she did it to the OP's wife.
posted by occhiblu at 3:06 PM on December 28, 2007


As far as I know (and I've never seen any data or read narratives that convince me otherwise) this does not happen to non-Jews in this country.

It happens to atheists/agnostics; I would not be surprised to hear from other groups that it happens to.

I had 2 friends I grew up with; one was raised without religion, never baptized. The other was open-minded but raised by a devoutly Catholic mother. The Catholic friend was under strict orders from her mother to perform an emergency baptism on the other friend if she was ever in an accident or other life-threatening situation.
posted by TedW at 3:13 PM on December 28, 2007


But it also has a long history for the Catholic people -- most infants are baptized before they're old enough to remember; I think the church recommends doing it as soon as possible after the birth. If the grandmother is part of a church that baptizes infants (rather than adults), then it's not really her "tricking" the kids into Christianity, or "forcibly baptizing" them, any more than it was when she did it to the OP's wife.

Baptizing your own baby in your own faith is completely different from baptizing someone else's baby in a faith that is not the faith of that child's parents. We impose a lot of things on our own kids, particularly cultural values and traditions, that it's not appropriate to impose on other people's kids.
posted by desuetude at 3:30 PM on December 28, 2007 [2 favorites]


Baptizing your own baby in your own faith is completely different from baptizing someone else's baby in a faith that is not the faith of that child's parents. We impose a lot of things on our own kids, particularly cultural values and traditions, that it's not appropriate to impose on other people's kids.

I agree. My point is not that what the grandmother did is fine, but that arguments about how forcing the children into the baptism is somehow proof that it was an anti-Semitic act seem a bit off.
posted by occhiblu at 3:33 PM on December 28, 2007


I'll echo the suggestion that you need to talk to your kids. I don't know how old they are, but it's very disturbing that the kids didn't tell you about it themselves. To me, that would imply that they were told to not tell you by your MIL. That's really bad, and your kids need to understand right away that anyone that tells them to not tell Mom and Dad something is not doing something kosher (no pun intended). Above all else, you need to do this first.

In many communities, Jews are a minority - don't know about yours. It's tough to bring up kids in the Jewish religion these days, especially this time of year. I would be very clear with your MIL that her job is to support you and your children's choice of religion, no matter what she herself believes. That's the price of a relationship with your kids, frankly. I'm Jewish and tolerant of others' choices, but I'd be enraged if my MIL did that with my kids without my knowledge.
posted by Flakypastry at 3:45 PM on December 28, 2007


Two observations:

1. Being a believing Christian doesn't make someone an anti-Semite.

2. You can't "forcibly baptize" someone. If the baptize-ee doesn't believe in the process and accept it with his/her heart/mind/soul, then it's just water and words.

Nthing people who say that the conversation to have with the MIL is one about decision-making power, not one about religion per se.
posted by mccxxiii at 3:48 PM on December 28, 2007


Two observations:

(Both of them wrong)

1. Being a believing Christian doesn't make someone an anti-Semite.

No, but secretly baptizing Jewish kids does. Unless you really did mean to limit yourself to the utterly banal decontextualized statement.

2. You can't "forcibly baptize" someone. If the baptize-ee doesn't believe in the process and accept it with his/her heart/mind/soul, then it's just water and words.

Maybe not in your church, but in many mainstream Christian denominations infants are routinely baptized. I daresay it is not just water and words to those involved.


Yes, a large part of this is about trust in the MIL, but that does not diminish the general historical context that surreptitious baptisms are a long standing way that some Christians have collected souls/scalps for their God, that they have historically targetted Jews in this way, and that is, indeed, anti-Semitic (or anti-whatever religion the infant might otherwise be raised in).
posted by Rumple at 4:49 PM on December 28, 2007 [1 favorite]



"Maybe not in your church, but in many mainstream Christian denominations infants are routinely baptized. I daresay it is not just water and words to those involved."

In those mainstream Christian denominations that you refer to (including in my church), infant baptism requires a sort of "follow-up" ceremony once the person reaches the age of reason. The infant who is baptized needs to make an "adult" confession of that faith at the proper age to be considered fully admitted to the faith. (I have quotes around "adult" because I know some churches do this as young as 7,8,9-years-old, which I think is too young to understand the significance of the moment. But that's a whole 'nother story ...)

I'm sure it's not just water and words to the person *doing* the procedure on an infant or an unwilling baptize-ee, but my point is that it's just water and words to the person who can't or doesn't understand or admit the spiritual meaning of the ceremony.

Don't know how old the OP's kids are, but if they cannot or do not accept the procedure as legitimate/meaningful then it holds no sway over them spiritually. The MIL cannot "force" upon them a spiritual change that is outside the realm of their own faith practice.
posted by mccxxiii at 5:42 PM on December 28, 2007


As far as I know (and I've never seen any data or read narratives that convince me otherwise) this does not happen to non-Jews in this country. This is not just the MIL trying to save her grandchildren, or do what she thinks is right, or serving hamburgers. Ultimately, the MIL has made her beliefs clear and she so strongly denigrates yours that she will put your children at risk.
posted by allen.spaulding at 3:00 PM on December 28


Of course this kind of thing happens to non-Jews. How many millions of households of interfaith Christian marriages have had very heated arguments with in-laws about how the grandkids are going to be raised. How many grandparents have tried to sneak the kids off to church, or tried to do little Bible study when they were babysitting. OR do you simply think it isn't that big of a deal to Christians to have their kids baptized in another sect?

And what is "at risk" about this? She didn't take them skydiving. The kids were not in any physical danger.

And like I said, even if a Catholic priest did this, it isn't a baptism in the eyes of the Catholic Church. It's still wrong for the mother-in-law to do this, but there isn't a secret program by the church to do these things.

And for all the charges of antisemitism flying around this thread, there are just as many anti-Catholic statements. As there any data on the number of these surreptitious baptisms of Jewish children? Or is everyone relying on unsubstantiated stories about this?
posted by Pastabagel at 8:45 PM on December 28, 2007


And for all the charges of antisemitism flying around this thread, there are just as many anti-Catholic statements. As there any data on the number of these surreptitious baptisms of Jewish children? Or is everyone relying on unsubstantiated stories about this?

There is no equivalence here. Jewish communities never kidnapped Catholic children in America to take them off to boarding school. I cannot make this clear enough. Up until close to the present day, Jewish families have had to worry about their children being abducted by "well-meaning" Catholics. I do not believe this happens to the extent it used to in the West, but surreptitious baptisms are as close as you get. Again, to make myself perfectly clear: Catholics used to kidnap Jewish children at young ages in America in the mid-20th century and send them to be raised by Catholic organizations. This was centralized and intentional, not aberrational. The lack of data is a signal of the status quo and who won. This happened to my family and others I know.
posted by allen.spaulding at 12:04 AM on December 29, 2007 [1 favorite]


Everyone seems to be very politically correct around here, so I'm just going to go ahead and say it. This All I really know is that this was done swiftly with an at-home kit. is horseshit. No serious Christian faith allows baptism by non-priests with "in home kits".

Of course, this isn't true at all; I've read accounts of isolated families being given a little bottle of holy water and a text to read to baptize their families, going as far back (in my exceedingly limited knowledge) as 250 years. (I'm sure earlier as well, but I can't know everything.) I know little about Christianity compared to Islam or Judaism. (You can even see this sort of home baptism by parents depicted *exactly* by a poor Catholic Transylvanian family in the 1942 Hungarian film "Emberek A Havason.")

Do some searching. In addition to my reading, I actually just stumbled across another article, below, which is very interesting. And that's not to mention that even within mainly "established" churches, there are nutcases who'll do whatever they want.

In Manndalen, a village in the county of Troms in the north of Norway, Laestadianism (a Christian revival movement that started one hundred and fifty years ago, but remains within the Church of Norway) is a strong influence in the community. Why is home baptism still practised?
posted by Dee Xtrovert at 12:35 AM on December 29, 2007


And like I said, even if a Catholic priest did this, it isn't a baptism in the eyes of the Catholic Church.

I'm sure you're right, and there's no doubt scripture backing this up. Yet somehow, as with Catholic Church pedophile sex scandals, Islamic mullahs issuing fatwas on Western novelists, Orthodox priests encouraging death squads to kill and rape more Muslims (etc), what doctrine itself says can be entirely irrelevant. There's certain no solace in it for the victims.

And the entire argument is irrelevant. The mother-in-law's secret baptism of her grandchildren was anti-Semitic: whether from consciousness or stupidity, it doesn't matter. She made it clear that the religion of her daughter, son-in-law and grandchildren should be superceded by her beliefs. And that their faith was so meaningless that it was fine to do this behind their backs. The naivety of a moron, again, is no excuse. Plenty of evil is perpetrated by those who think they are doing "good," but refuse to investigate the results of their actions on others.

And yes, people, dunking a tot in water and whispering some Latin gibberish will not harm the health of these children. Assuming they are young, they won't remember any of it and they can grow to experience the fullness of their faith, like any other Jewish kids, as they grow to adulthood. But to say that it's "nothing" is shameful. It's the same thing that presumably well-meaning but cowardly folks said when their Jewish friends and neighbors were forced into the act of having to walk around with yellow stars. Yeah, they're just silly stars. Sadly, even many Jewish people made this remark too.

I don't buy into the idea that these small acts of intolerance are meaningless. I say, fight them no matter how "irrelevant" people think they are. They're clearly relevant to the fellow who wrote the original post.
posted by Dee Xtrovert at 12:49 AM on December 29, 2007 [2 favorites]


Up until close to the present day, Jewish families have had to worry about their children being abducted by "well-meaning" Catholics.

allen.spaulding, there were 100,000 American Indian children who were kidnapped and forced into Christian boarding schools as well, through the 1920s. Converting others, in this country at least, has never really been a strictly anti-Jewish thing. (Which doesn't make it any more right, nor do I mean to claim there's not any antisemitism involved, but you seem to be arguing that baptism itself is somehow an antisemitic act, due to the history involved, and that doesn't really seem to be following from the facts.)

And I'm not finding information about the kidnapping of Jewish children by Catholics in the U.S.; the closest I'm seeing is information about a discredited article in the NY Times about the Catholic church's instructions for what to do with Jewish children who were rescued from Nazi Germany in Europe.
posted by occhiblu at 10:58 AM on December 29, 2007


[comments removed - please take side discussion about what is or is not anti-semitism to mefimail or metatalk]
posted by jessamyn at 3:35 PM on December 29, 2007


Since I haven't seen much of it here, I will add my two cents about how the children are likely to view this occurrence. This (probably) happened to me when I was a baby (and I'm really fascinated that this happened to dhammond as well!)- my grandmother sent my parents out for a nice day on their own, and 'oh, I'll take care of the baby' - then, as the story goes, she hurried her priest over to the house and did a quickie baptism. My parents were none the wiser when they got home. At least, that's the story I was told at my grandmother's funeral seven years ago - my father now has forgotten ever hearing the story.

My grandmother was Catholic, my parents both atheists. I have grown up agnostic, with no spiritual guidance.

Personally, I find this story quite funny, but with good and bad points. The good is that my grandmother cared enough to want me protected from what she saw as a very real evil. The bad is that she didn't respect my parents' decision to not have me baptized. But in the end, it turns out to be a slightly endearing, amusing story.

However, I'm not sure I would feel that way were I dedicated to another religion that did not believe in the rite of baptism, such as Judaism. It does indeed conflict with those religious views. *However*, the same rule of thumb applies - that the person doing the baptism is showing love, albeit in a relatively dysfunctional way.

In my view, the breach of trust with the MIL is the real problem here, not any religious matter. Do tell your wife, and do tell your children eventually, but most importantly, support your wife when she decides what is best for her to do in confronting or not confronting her mother.
posted by AthenaPolias at 6:46 PM on December 29, 2007


occhiblu, I don't think allen.spaulding or anyone else objecting to the mother-in-law's actions have claimed forced conversion or baptism is "strictly" anti-Jewish. Whether it's done to Native American kids or Jewish kids or atheist kids it disrespects and devalues their culture and is strictly against modern church doctrine. I don't think you mean to argue that because something is anti-Native American it can't also be anti-Semitic, but I am not sure what you actually mean to argue.

I don't know anything about allen.spaulding's specific claims and would also like some scholarly research, should any exist, on the subject. When I wrote about "dark history" I was thinking of many things that weigh on the Jewish psyche when considering questions like these. In Europe, besides the more obvious recent history, there's a very long history of forced conversion and baptism (for instance, among the Marranos). In the US, I was thinking more of unorganized but still acute social pressures felt by non-Christians, but also of the LDS church's record of posthumous baptisms, which people have laughed off right here in this thread but that have caused huge offense among the Jewish community and some significant political fallout between the groups.

Whatever the case, this is an exceedingly delicate issue for many Jews and the sheer amount of dismissive statements about the religious and cultural aspects of this conflict have been disappointing to read. No, you do not have to be Jewish to answer this question, but it is not too much to ask that every answer for a complicated question like this to come from a place of knowledge, direct experience, or careful research. This isn't naming kittens, people.
posted by melissa may at 8:08 PM on December 29, 2007 [4 favorites]


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