Saturday, May 24, 2003

Carnival baptisms draw complaints

The Associated Press

COLUMBUS - Some parents are angry after learning their children were baptized without their consent while attending a church's children's carnival last month.

The carnival, which draws children from low-income neighborhoods across the city, was held April 26-27 at Anchor Baptist Church on the west side.

The pastor, the Rev. George Bell, acknowledged that dozens of the children were baptized. He said parents knew their children were being invited to an opportunity for baptism.

Many parents disputed that.

"They baptized my daughter without my permission; I didn't sign anything," Sandra Barber said of her 5-year-old. "When I found out ... I was really ticked off."

The Columbus woman said she thought she could trust a religious group with her child.

"If my daughter was getting baptized, I wanted to be there. I had plans for her to be baptized, but not like that," she said.

Bell said he is willing to talk with anyone who misunderstands his church's practices, but he makes no apology for its aggressive evangelism.

"There is one thing that I care about, and that is people going to heaven," Bell said.

Bell said children heard a talk by his son Matt, also a minister at the church, and were told to close their eyes and then raise their hands if they were receiving Jesus. Those who did were led to boys' or girls' dressing rooms, where they changed into baptismal robes.

The children then were baptized by immersion in a pool.

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