'Down with the old man, up with the new': River baptisms make for great pics, many questions

As you may recall, country singer Alan Jackson got a little crazy on the Chattahoochee (but he never got caught). He learned "a lot about livin' and a little 'bout love."

Another country song came to mind, though, as I read an Associated Press feature on baptisms in North Georgia's Chattahoochee and Coosawattee rivers:

Yes, Carrie Underwood sang about "Something in the Water."

But I'm talking about "Baptism" by Kenny Chesney and Randy Travis, which includes these vivid lyrics:

The summer breeze, made ripples on the pond
Rattled through the rings and the willow trees beyond
Daddy in his good hat, mama in her Sunday dress
Watched in pride, as I stood there in the water up to my chest
And the preacher spoke about the cleansing blood
I sank my toes into that East Tennessee mud
And it was down with the old man, up with the new
Raised to walk in the way of light and truth
I didn't see no angels, just a few saints on the shore
But I felt like a new baby, cradled up in the arms of the Lord

In case I haven't made it clear, I thought the idea of the AP story — river baptisms — was brilliant.

Here's the lede:

DEMOREST, Ga. (AP) — Take me to the river — the saying still resonates in some Southern churches where the tradition of river baptism remains alive.
The chilly, rapid waters of North Georgia's Chattahoochee and Coosawattee rivers serve to baptize members of the River Point Community Church in Cornelia and the Resaca Church of God in Resaca.
On a couple of recent late-summer Sundays, congregants of each church gathered for the ancient sacrament, memorialized in the Gospel account of John baptizing Jesus in the Jordan River. Children from age 7 and adults well into their 70s are baptized by pastors or family.
Many denominations don't fully immerse baptismal candidates, preferring to sprinkle them with water. And in churches that do immersion baptism, water tanks built inside the church's sanctuary have largely replaced excursions to dunk members in a river or pond.
But 49-year-old Kevin Mangum, the pastor who leads River Point, says river baptisms offer a special setting to assemble a crowd and demonstrate lives changed by Christ.

It's a subject that interests me a whole lot and one that I've mentioned briefly in a few stories of my own. I've written about an Oregon camp "where salmon and steelhead trout swim — and where so many souls find salvation" and noted that Duck Commander Phil Robertson "has brought hundreds of souls to new life in the Ouachita River."

But while I loved the idea, what did I think of the actual AP story? Overall, I'd characterize the piece as underwhelming. For me, it raised all kinds of unanswered questions.

I wanted to know more about the theology behind the baptisms: What do these immersions represent to those being dunked under the water? Do the two churches involved tout baptism as an essential part of the salvation process in which sins are washed away? Or do they see baptism as a symbolic gesture by people who already have received forgiveness after calling on Jesus as their Savior?

I also wanted more details on the history of river baptisms and other examples of the practice beyond North Georgia. In other words, I thought the subject matter deserved more than the 325-word story that AP produced. But here's my bias: I'm a word guy, not a photographer.

What if, instead of a story that had photos with it, this were a photo package that had a short story with it? 

Because if you scroll the images at the top of the screen, you discover an exceptional photo gallery:

My guess is that the photos came first, then the story (given that the byline belongs to a photo editor). Does that change your perception of the piece? It does mine. Taken as a photo essay with a short story, this package seems much more impressive to me.

Still, I wouldn't mind if an enterprising Godbeat pro out there took this idea and delved a whole lot deeper into river baptisms. I'd certainly read it. 

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