The state Department of Social Services is investigating Anchor Baptist Church of Woburn, Massachusetts, after complaints that underaged children have been baptized by church leaders without parental consent.

About 200 youths from low-income housing projects went to the church because of promises of free pizza, prizes, and games. Once the children arrived, however, they sometimes sat for up to two hours, time that included a sermon ending with an admonition to be baptized. Some children say they were baptized against their will. For example, 12-year-old Hieu Nguyen—whose family is Buddhist—claims he did not know what was happening when he and his 9-year-old brother, Qui, were baptized.

Anchor Baptist senior pastor Chris Pledger told CT that no one was "forced" to do anything and that the promised entertainment took place after the baptisms. He further maintains that parental authorizations were given via permission slips signed to bus children to the church.

"The form goes into an outline of salvation," Pledger says. "The parental consent is a paragraph at the bottom, giving permission for them to not only get on the bus, but to participate in all aspects of the service."

Despite the investigation, Pledger maintains that such tactics are proper. "We feel like the Lord would have us to do it this way."

A police investigation into the matter concluded that church officials had broken no criminal laws by baptizing the youths.

Last Updated: October 10, 1996

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