Pagan vs. Christian: The Right and Wrong Ways to Go About It

Time to put away the gloves...

Grand Rapids (MI) Pagan Pride Day is a wonderful event, and I used to speak there on a yearly basis. It was always well organized, featured some fantastic vendors, and had a pretty big turnout. It was always in late September/early October too, a beautiful time of year in Michigan; slightly chilly, but still invigorating in the way that only an autumn day can be. It was a day or (weekend) I always enjoyed, even if it meant missing a little bit of football.

The only blemish on those perfect fall days involved the inevitable protests by Christians. Grand Rapids is a fun town, but it’s also the buckle on the Midwest Bible Belt. It’s a conservative city in the way that most Midwestern cities aren’t, and Pagan Pride Day there often attracted a rogue Christian element. The end of the day often saw me peeling off “You can be saved from hell!” flyers from the windshield of my car.

On the years when the Christians showed up I’d keep my distance, but glance at them now and then to see what they were up to. Inevitably, every year, the same Pagan guy would be engaging them, arguing for hours. He tended to look about 24, with long hair and a hat, and he’d usually have a little gaggle of followers around him. I’m not sure it was always the “same guy” every year, but it was always the same type of guy; a guy so convinced of his Pagan awesomeness that we needed him to be our spokesperson, and that he had the power to show the Christians the error of their ways.

In many ways I found that guy just as annoying as the Christians. His actions simply egged them on, giving them the audience they so desperately desired. In some ways the protesting Christians and that guy had a mutually beneficial relationship. Both of them got to feel important, with neither group accomplishing a damn thing. If anything, engaging a handful (and in this case, it was always just a handful) of protesting Christians probably sets useful religious dialogue back a bit. The type of rabid Christian who gets off yelling at Pagans is not someone who can generally be reasoned with, so why bother?

The people running the event always took a far more effective, and sweeter, approach. If the protesters were in a particularly disruptive spot (like near a workshop area) they’d nicely ask them to move. If they didn’t move they’d call the police. They never made any attempt to change anyone’s mind or engage in useless arguments.

Engaging in religious outreach is a difficult thing, and there are right ways and wrong ways to go about it. Often the approach to it we take as Pagans depends on the circumstances and the individuals involved. If a group of Christians shows up to protest your Pagan event, it’s likely that you are dealing with the most rabid of the rabid, and that real dialogue is most likely out of the question. In those cases it’s best to ignore them (or call the police if it gets to that point).

Despite what that guy always tends to think, you can’t convert those types of Christians, and that’s not our modus operandi anyways. Pagans don’t proselytize, we educate, we inform, but we don’t have a duty to “spread the word of the Goddess” to every corner of the Earth. When conversion attempts failed, that guy would often talk about the inaccuracies and falsehoods of the Bible. It’s true that there are a lot of problems with the Christian Bible, and that many Pagans are far more literate about it than Christians, but you aren’t going to get a radical fundie to agree with you that the Apostle Paul only wrote seven of the thirteen books attributed to him in the New Testament through yelling and arguing.

When engaging those in other faiths about Paganism, our most important duty is to simply tear down misconceptions. I don’t care if people agree with my religious beliefs, what I do care about is that they know I don’t sacrifice babies or engage in homilies to Satan during ritual. Yes, you can yell “I don’t worship Lucifer” at Christian fundamentalists and perhaps they’ll catch on, but engaging them in an antagonistic sort of way confirms their belief that we are their “enemies.” My enemies are people who would deny me my religious freedom, not Christians as a whole, and the best remedies tend to involve civil conversation, the courts, and the occasional school board meeting.

Away from protesters, I’ve been lucky enough to engage in some meaningful, and constructive religious dialogue over the years. I’ve been on inter-faith panels, and visited a few churches, and when I was done with those things the impression I left was a positive one. Many times I ended up with new friends as a result of those experience, and I accomplished this through being positive and being respectful. When doing inter-faith work the goal is not to convert anyone or get them to agree with you, but to help them see you (and our community) as a positive. A successful interaction with a Christian is one where they leave seeing you as a person, not an enemy or a servant of evil.

Having grown up outside of Nashville Tennessee I have a lot of conservative, Christian Evangelical friends. When discussing spiritual matters with them there’s always this little bit of me that simply wants to “discredit” what they believe. Sometimes I just want to go through their Holy Book and point out every little contradiction, but what’s the point? Being antagonistic like that is simply going to make them defensive, and it’s only going to reinforce the perception that I’m against them. I’m not against anyone, I disagree with people about a whole host of issues, but those are entirely different things. What’s most rewarding when dealing with my Evangelical friends is when their friends realize that I’m just another person, living a painstakingly average life in a lot of ways.

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About Jason Mankey

Jason Mankey has been involved with Paganism for the last twenty years, and has spent the last ten of those years as a speaker, writer, and High Priest. Jason can often be found lecturing on the Pagan Festival circuit, so you might just bump into him. When not reading and researching Pagan history he likes to crank up the Led Zeppelin, do rituals in honor of Jim Morrison (of The Doors), and sing numerous praises to Pan, Dionysus, and Aphrodite. He lives in Sunnyvale CA with his wife Ari and two hyper-kinetic cats.

  • Adrian Hawkins

    I always prefer the kill it with kindness approach. Bring them water, move them into the shade etc.

    • Druidwood

      I’m much the same way my mom is an 

      Christian & she’ll start going off on me from time to time. I let her rant & let her act un-christ like as I call it. Once she realizes is she’ll stop but ONLY after the damage is done. Many Christian tend to go this route trying to get me to act out or say something demeaning to them about thier faith OR about themselves.  One of my best friends is also an
      evangelical Christian as well & he can’t stand to see other Christian act that way himself. Sadly I have some friends who call themselves Pagan who act this same way.

  • ConcernedPagan

    Not to give you an audience for your pointless attempts at dialog, but how is this different. Pagans are diverse and if young lad wants to argue with the xtians , good for him. 

    I’m glad you can let sleeping dogs lie, but quite frankly Pagans are far more diverse then xtians. proselytizing may be on the books. Is it because your feeling smug on the internet that i should listen to you again. 

    Those evangelical friends are gonna turn on you. Its just a matter of time and someone new is gonna disturb your dynamic and those so called friends of yours will be telling you that your going to burn in a lake of fire, thats if they’re not doing their best to get you fired or worst. 

    You said you shouldn’t argue with immoderate people, but if your not willing to do that. Will you be willing to argue with moderate people. These people are the ones who just like you are trying to get by and by. You really think your evangelical friends are more susceptable to religious argument. 

    This just seems like apologist and back in the closet bullshit if you ask me, but hey whatever floats your boat. 

    • Star Foster

       Anonymous e-mails with troll-like behavior automatically get blocked.

      • Hatersgonnahate

        Trust me, disagree with you isn’t trolling.

        But hey, someone can’t handle disagreement. I get it, its probably why your posting your bs online rather then talking to that horrible young pagan doing as they please.

        Terrible , Isn’t it.

        • Star Foster

           Blocked for anonymous trolling.

  • Kynoceph

    Hi, ConcernedPagan:

    “He tended to look about 24, with long hair and a hat, and he’d usually
    have a little gaggle of followers around him. I’m not sure it was
    always the “same guy” every year, but it was always the same type
    of guy; a guy so convinced of his Pagan awesomeness that we needed him
    to be our spokesperson, and that he had the power to show the Christians
    the error of their ways.”

    Is that you? in the floppy hat?

  • DebV

    I lived in Grand Rapids during the eighties and  nineties and love the idea of a pagan festival there, while having trouble imagining it. 

  • Sunweaver

    I find that it really confuses them if, instead of trying to “discredit” their beliefs, you find where there is value and common ground. I generally talk about beloved relatives or friends who are or were Christian and the kinds of things I learned from them. If you approach interfaith dialogue in an adversarial way, you will get exactly nowhere. I wouldn’t want someone to nitpick my beliefs, either.
    So yes, being positive and respectful is definitely the way to go.

  • Nite_Owl

    If they’re ignorant and abusive I have no problem with twisting their tails.

  • Thomas Michael

    There are not good or bad religions (not sects), but there are good and bad people.

  • Nicole Youngman

    One thing I found years ago when doing abortion clinic defense work was that  “that guy”–and we always had a couple, sometimes I was one of them–was providing a valuable service by distracting the protestors so that they spent less time and energy screaming at the patients as they walked into the clinic. It might serve a similar function at Pagan events, as long as it isn’t turning into a screaming match that wouldn’t otherwise have happened. You’re totally right about ignoring them/calling the cops if necessary being the best approach, I think, but there’s pretty much always going to be someone who wants to go have the arguments.

  • Sprite1

    I agree wholeheartedly, and I have found your tactics to be so much more effective in my geographical area as well. 

  • Ted &LuckShop

    The only way that I can agree upon when dealing with cross-belief issues is mutual respect.  Why is there a need for someone to always be wrong?  Who has such a strong need to be right every time and assert themselves that way?

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  • Alejandraperez53

    Everybody has their own believe and theyre in their every right nobody has the right to judge you all im going to tell you my believe is God Im am Christian my savier i Jesus Christ god will come to the world and take with him those who believe in him and read his word THE BIBLE read bible it could save your life those who dont believe in him will stay hear on earth and suffer if you dont believe just read alittle bit of Revelation maybe that will help you chose a diffent path god bless you all and wish the best for all my brothers and sisters god has a plan to save us :)

    • Pentagram Lady

      Thanks, however wonderful your intentions are, we will not go to Christianity unless we choose ourselves. Please do not try to make that decision for us, and instead, go off the internet and help around in your church. I think that it would be beneficial for both of us. Have a nice day !

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