Ghosts in the coach Reid story

Philadelphia Eagles head coach Andy ReidThe troubles in the family of Philadelphia Eagles head coach Andy Reid is a difficult story for reporters to cover. In many ways, one would wish for the story to just go away. Coach Reid’s family life is in public disarray. A judge has publicly castigated him about his abilities as a parent and his two oldest sons are in prison because of their long-standing drug addictions.

A headline from The New York Times is particularly appropriate: “There Are No Easy Answers for Reid and His Family.”

Much of this story appropriately has to do with drug addiction and whether it should be considered a disease. But there is another aspect of this highly personal story that has not received much attention, particularly by the Times. The Philadelphia Inquirer, perhaps because it is closer to the story than anyone else, touched on it on Sunday:

The boys were expected to become Eagle Scouts — and Garrett and Britt did so, Tammy Reid said. Piano lessons were required through age 18. Other rules were bent to accommodate the crazy hours of a coach. If her husband “got home at 9 o’clock, you’ll bet the kids are up to see him,” she said.

And when that wasn’t enough, she let him know. “We’ve got our roles down pat,” she said in that earlier interview. “I’m the one who tells him when he really needs to be home. There’s just times you can read the kids’ coverage – that’s what I call it. You just know one of your kids needs their dad. I say, ‘You really need to get to this.’”

As Mormons, the Reids did not allow even alcohol in their home. And Tammy Reid has described her husband’s determined efforts to carve out time with Garrett, Britt, and the three younger children — to be present at their sporting events, to take them to movies, to cut down a tree and sing together on Christmas.

There’s obviously only so much that a reporter can do when reporting on a person’s personal faith. If a public person doesn’t acknowledge that faith publicly, then it is probably out of bounds in stories like this.

But it would be difficult to say that Reid’s Mormon faith is not part of his public character. Check out this story from earlier this year by the sports director at Philadelphia television station NBC 10:

For all of us, there are times when the lines that separate our personal and professional lives are sometimes blurred. This is one of those times for me.

You see, I’ve known Garrett and Britt Reid since they were in their early teens. Their parents, Andy and Tammy, were classmates at BYU in the early ’80s and Andy and I were college teammates. More importantly, we share a common faith, as members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. We’re Mormons — which is still a relatively small community here in the East. …

Most Mormon young men apply for and serve a two-year church mission following their freshman year of college. Neither Garrett or Britt did that. A church mission in the Mormon faith is almost a rite of passage from boyhood to manhood — almost like being bar mitzvahed if you’re a Jewish boy. …

The Reids are very private and, as reported in newspaper accounts, very religious.

It’s moments like this that their faith really matters.

To be perfectly clear, the Mormon angle to the Coach Reid story should not be raised to castigate or criticize Reid or Mormonism. Reporters should treat this highly difficult subject with care and resist any urge to cast stones. But ignoring the Mormon angle of the story gives readers an incomplete picture.

Variations of this situation can happen in any family. Faith will often play an important, if not key, role in a family’s efforts to adjust and cope. To the extent that figures in the family are public and the situation becomes public, the faith aspect should not be tucked away or ignored.

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Cheering for women’s ordination

womenpriests2We have written before about Roman Catholic Womenpriests and how the media usually botch coverage of such groups. Roman Catholic Womenpriests wants the Catholic Church to allow women’s ordination and claims to ordain women as Catholic priests. Reporters covering these services often take them at their word that the ordination is genuine.

The problem with the stories is not that they report claims of ordination. That is an established, observable fact. The problem is that the coverage does not reflect that all the ordinations amount to are independent claims without taking into consideration that the Catholic Church does not recognize the services and finds them offensive. Your opinion on the Catholic Church’s position does not matter. The church’s position is a fact reporters should consider in weighing how to convey the news of an event.

A story in Monday’s St. Louis Post-Dispatchobvious cheerleading. The story is even headlined with the crowd’s cheers as if that was the most significant thing to come out of the story. To the credit of reporter Michelle Muntz, the story notes up front that the Roman Catholic Church does not sanction these ordinations. But she also refers to Rose Marie Hudson and Elsie Hainz McGrath the “first women ever in the city to be ordained as Catholic priests.”

To members of the diverse crowd — the dozen ministers in robes and stoles of different colors, those wearing yarmulke, and some wearing buttons saying “God loves us, just ask her” — the ceremony showed unity and understanding.

“What a day, what an occasion, what a case, what a rabbi,” said Patricia Fresen, the ordaining bishop with Roman Catholic Womenpriests, referring to the synagogue’s rabbi, Susan Talve. The room boomed with applause.

The story adequately addresses the fact that the Roman Catholic Church objects to the ordinations and finds them offensive. In fact, the potential response of the ceremony could have led the story, but it’s buried down near the end:

The action irked some. The Rev. Vincent Heir, who directs the Catholic Church’s interfaith efforts in St. Louis, said the archdiocese will not participate in any more interfaith events if Central Reform Congregation is “a leading player.” St. Louis Archbishop Raymond Burke, who has threatened to excommunicate Hudson and McGrath, asked Talve to reconsider hosting the ceremony.

Though she felt support among the throng of people there Sunday, Talve said, “There is still work to do, still conversations to have to help people to understand why we chose to do what we did. Hospitality outweighed other issues that presented a challenge.”

Threats of ordination and refusal to participate in interfaith events are significant statements and could allow for follow-up stories. Instead, we get to hear about a “booming” crowd that cheered along an invalid, offensive to some, ordination service.

Reporters covering these stories should not pass up the opportunity to address the deeper theological issues involved in the Catholic Church’s refusal to ordain women. Slanted coverage does not help anyone and just reinforces the view that the media have a stake in the dispute. If you watch this YouTube video, you will see a smart question from reporter Ann Rodgers at a 2006 press conference and an in-depth response that gets to the heart of the issue.

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Religious freedom swept under the rug

Olympic ringsIn response to reports of Web chatter, the Associated Press and other news agencies inquired with Olympic officials about whether Bibles will be allowed in the Olympic Village for the 2008 Olympics in China. Most reporters got the answer they wanted and probably expected. Yes, of course Bibles will not be banned in the Olympic Village. What kind of country do you think this is? Oh, wait.

The nuance and significance of the story are left unstated in most news reports. For example, here is the AP:

The USOC contacted the International Olympic Committee about the issue in response to a story posted on the Catholic News Agency Web site citing a list of prohibited items that was reported to include Bibles.

That story said the Italian daily, La Gazzetta dello Sport, reported that organizers cited “security reasons” for prohibiting athletes from carrying any kind of religious symbol at Olympic facilities. Those reports and others were producing active blog discussions on several Web sites.

USOC spokesman Darryl Seibel said the federation contacted the IOC about the news reports.

“We have heard from the IOC and there will be no restriction on athletes bringing the Bible or any other religious book into the village for their personal use,” Seibel said in a telephone interview from USOC offices in Colorado Springs.

The emphasis of that sentence and the story should be on the restriction of Bibles and other religious literature to “personal use.” Are athletes restricted from having their own religious services or Bible studies?

Perhaps that explains a Reuters story in which China proclaims a guarantee that religious services will be held in the Olympic Village:

China will offer religious services for foreigners arriving for the 2008 Olympic Games and religion will play a positive role in the country’s future, its top religious affairs official said on Wednesday.

… Ye [Xiaowen, director-general of the State Administration for Religious Affairs,] said he expected large numbers of religious faithful among the athletes, coaches and tourists swarming into the officially atheist nation during the Olympics.

“We are learning from practices in past Games to make sure that their demands for religious worship are met,” Ye told reporters on the sidelines of the ruling Communist Party’s 17th Congress.

“Here I can promise that religious services we offer will not be lower than the level of any previous Games,” Ye said. He did not say if proselytising would be allowed.

This Reuters piece is Exhibit A for scribe-style journalism. Important person with important title stands up and tells journalists something and their job is just to write the quotes down accurately and spit those quotes out in a sensible manner in 800 words or less. No follow-up questions, please.

Catholic News Agency has been all over this story and reports (with links) that there are still contradictory statements out there. One example is the recommendation that travelers to China only bring one Bible and that “Any printed material, film, tapes that are ‘detrimental to China’s politics, economy, culture and ethics’ are also forbidden to bring into China.”

The world’s Big Media will descend on China next summer and the country will no doubt do its best to sweep under the rug those policies that restrict personal freedom of speech, the press and religion, among others. Whether the Big Media types, particularly those fancy TV evening news hosts, take the time and effort to stoop down and look under those rugs will say a lot about whether they value the freedoms they enjoy in the U.S.

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The Economist on the resurgence of religion

religion in the economistIf there is one edition of The Economist you should pick up off the newsstand, it is this week’s because of its special report on the state of religion in the world.

Quite appropriately, The Economist notes that it was wrong when it wrote in December 1999 that God’s career was over. If any other journalists felt the same way lately, they should have reconsidered that thought a long time ago.

There is so much that could be said about this report. Generally from what I have read they get it. The general message is that religion matters in the world. Moreover, you have to get it to function.

As you can see from the cover, the big issue of the day is why religion has inspired violence in the modern era. Much of the leading report discusses how the world should “deal with” religion as if all its readers are secular and are frustrated with religion’s role in the world. To me that’s a flawed approach, but not that surprising from The Economist:

Part of that secular fury, especially in Europe, comes from exasperation. After all, it has been a canon of progressive thought since the Enlightenment that modernity — that heady combination of science, learning and democracy — would kill religion. Plainly, this has not happened. Numbers about religious observance are notoriously untrustworthy, but most of them seem to indicate that any drift towards secularism has been halted, and some show religion to be on the increase. The proportion of people attached to the world’s four biggest religions — Christianity, Islam, Buddhism and Hinduism — rose from 67% in 1900 to 73% in 2005 and may reach 80% by 2050 (see chart 2).

Moreover, from a secularist point of view, the wrong sorts of religion are flourishing, and in the wrong places. In general, it is the tougher versions of religion that are doing best — the sort that claim Adam and Eve met 6,003 years ago. Some of the new converts are from the ranks of the underprivileged (Pentecostalism has spread rapidly in the favelas of Brazil), but many are not. American evangelicals tend to be well-educated and well-off. In India and Turkey religious parties have been driven by the up-and-coming bourgeoisie.

With modernity now religion’s friend, an eternal subject has become fashionable. Father Richard John Neuhaus points out that when he founded his Centre for Religion and Society in 1984, there were only four centres of religion and public life in America; now, he thinks, there are more than 200. Religious people are getting more vocal in all sorts of fields, including business. Religion is also cropping up in economics. Niall Ferguson, a Scottish historian, re-examined Max Weber’s theory of the Protestant work ethic to explain why Europeans work less than Americans.

One of the things I enjoy most about reading The Economist is its respect and understanding of the broad scope of history. If there is a news report from a far-off place, such as Pakistan, The Economist generally makes the background of the story, particularly if there is a long history behind it, fairly clear. You can debate the conclusions, but at least something is there and it’s generally fairly sound.

In this instance, the report takes a step back and tries to pinpoint when religion in the world decided it was not going anywhere:

In retrospect, the turning point came long before Osama bin Laden declared his jihad on Jews and Crusaders. For Timothy Shah, a scholar at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York who is writing a book on secularism, the symbolic turning point was the six-day war of 1967. It marked a crushing defeat for secular pan-Arabism; meanwhile Israel’s “miraculous” triumph gave God a stronger voice in its politics, emboldening the settler movement. In the same year a Hindu nationalist party won 9.4% of the vote in India.

By the end of the 1970s this counter-revolution was in full swing. America had elected its first proudly born-again Christian, Jimmy Carter; Jerry Falwell had founded the Moral Majority; Iran had replaced the worldly shah with Ayatollah Khomeini; Zia ul Haq was busy Islamising Pakistan; Buddhism had been formally granted the foremost place in Sri Lanka’s constitution; and an anti-communist Pole had become head of the Catholic church.

Is it fair and accurate to lump those religious movements together like that? Are they responding in unity to the first revolution of the 1960s?

If you do not have time to read the entire special report or cannot find a place to buy it, check out this free audio interview with John Micklethwait, editor of The Economist and author of the special report. This is Micklethwait’s first special report, and he says he chose religion because of the demand for religion news and commentary.

I hope other journalists are hearing that. If a leading numbers-crunching, libertarian-leaning publication finds religion news in demand and important in today’s society, how can other newspapers serving a more general interest see otherwise?

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Scientology-embracing pastors craziness

south park scientologyWe’ve received so many of your notes regarding this bizarre story that we just had to address it. Maybe it’s because so many people check so frequently. The story, headlined “Some Christian pastors embrace Scientology,” is fairly shallow and shabby in its lack of proper definitions.

Reader Jason had this to say about the story:

The reporter seems to frame this as a mixing of theology — “theological hybrid” — but most of the quotes –and there are a lot of them, to the reporter’s credit — are about just using some of the philosophies to help affect changes in peoples lives with the Gospel. I am curious to know about Ross’ religious beliefs and would like to know what kinds of criticism “other pastors” offer.

Ross is, according to CNN, a “court-certified Scientology expert,” whatever that means, and is quoted warning that “mainstream acceptance makes it easier for the Scientologists to achieve their ultimate goal — new recruits.” It’s a scary world we live in, isn’t it?

Here’s the heart of the story. In typical television journalism fashion, the potential reach of Scientology is unbounded and could even be in, heaven forbid, your own community!

The Rev. Charles Kennedy, of the Glorious Church of God in Christ, a Pentecostal church in Tampa, Florida, and the Rev. James McLaughlin, of the Wayman Chapel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Houston, Texas, are among the theological hybrids.

… Kennedy, McLaughlin and a handful of other Christian church leaders — no one can say how many — are finding answers to their communities’ needs in Scientology’s social programs.

For Kennedy, it began two years ago when he attended a meeting at the Church of Scientology’s spiritual headquarters in Clearwater, Florida. He was introduced to a book called “The Way to Happiness” — Hubbard’s 64-page, self-described “common sense guide to better living.”

In the book, which lays out ways to maintain a temperate lifestyle, Kennedy found a message he believed could help lift his predominantly lower income African-American congregation. He said the book’s 21 principles help them with their struggle in an urban environment where there is too much crime and addiction and too little opportunity.

Kennedy knew that before he could introduce any Scientology-related text to his congregation, he would have to prove that it did not contradict his Christian beliefs. And so, he found Scripture to match each of the 21 principles.

What are published reports and what does “other religions and ethnic groups” mean?

And there are more questions. What are social programs and “temperate lifestyles”? How do church leaders see Hubbard’s book as better than the millions of other self-help books out there? Do the members of a church become part of Scientology automatically, or do they have to be admitted individually?

These and many other questions come up in a story like this, and considering that the reporters on this story only found a couple of examples, I question whether this is very significant as a trend.

The reporters’ reliance on Ross gets out of hand, and it’s fairly clear that the piece is less about exploring how inner-city churches are looking to Scientology for help and more about scaring people into believing that churches are adopting cult-like practices.

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Of the making of lists there is no end

SgtPepperThe right-of-center Daily Telegraph, Great Britain’s only remaining broadsheet, has published a list of what its editors consider the 100 most influential conservatives and liberals in the United States. The list tells us a lot about how the British see our next presidential election. It’s also a peek into how journalists across the pond understand America’s political power structure. Where do they rank the leaders of our political, business, social and, yes, religious institutions?

Like many others, I tend to find lists like these silly and, by definition, flawed. But they are reasonably interesting conversation pieces worth mentioning, and it is often the subsequent discussion that produces the most interesting insights.

It’s not that surprising to see former New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani lead the conservative list, but who would have predicted Hillary Clinton down at number four with her husband leading at number one? Also, is it really that surprising that President Bush wasn’t in the top 20? The Telegraph thought it was significant enough to put in a special word for why the country’s president failed to crack the top 20.

With that aside, for the purposes of this blog, who were the leading conservative and liberal religious figures on the list and how do their rankings compare? The list is fairly focused on people who might have a direct influence on the election (and likely make an endorsement in the primary). It has missed the people, particularly in religious communities, who will probably end up influencing the election in a more indirect but significant way.

That said, here is the Telegraph‘s rather interesting disclaimer about the list:

When in doubt, we have leant towards those likely to be most influential in the future rather than those whose careers and impact lies in the past. But some historical figures cast such a long shadow that it would have been perverse to have excluded them.

The mere holding of a high office did not guarantee inclusion, though it was often an important factor. The future influence of some figures will depend largely on whether the candidate they are associated with wins their party’s nomination or the presidency. Certainly, a year and a week from today, these lists will probably be very — though by no means entirely — different.

Now consider whether the people on this list will exercise future influence or whether they’re just “historical figures” casting a “long shadow.”

On the conservative side, the closest religious figure in the top 20 is Mike Huckabee, the former Baptist preacher and Arkansas governor who’s now running for president. He’s definitely among the future influential people. On the other hand, Focus on the Family president James Dobson appears at number 26 (one spot in front of Christopher Hitchens), former presidential candidate Gary Bauer is at 70 and the Family Research Council’s Tony Perkins is number 81. There are others on the list who express religious sentiments regularly, but that isn’t their primary purpose.

On the liberal side, the list of religious figures is a bit shorter: Former presidential candidates and civil rights activists Jesse Jackson (number 44) and Al Sharpton (88). That’s it. Apparently the emerging religious left hasn’t given notice to the folks across the pond that they have influence these days.

From my perspective, this is a fairly significant oversight. There was no room for Jim Wallis of Sojourners, author of God’s Politics: Why the Right Gets It Wrong and the Left Doesn’t Get It? Or is it too difficult to pin him down as a liberal?

The challenge with some of the religious leaders is that they are difficult to pigeonhole on the right or left. Where would you place Rick Warren, if you think he should be on there at all? Perhaps that is this list’s fundamental flaw. What about the leaders of the Episcopal Church? Do Mike Gerson’s efforts to make the Republican Party more aware of Catholic social issues make him somewhat significant?

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Prayer in the Indiana Statehouse

IndianaCapitol 01There’s been a surprisingly low level of news coverage on a trial judge’s ruling that “sectarian prayers” on the floor of Indiana’s House (the lower level of its General Assembly) violated the “constitutional separation of church and state.” Most recently, an appeals court tossed the case on procedural grounds, but didn’t look at the merits of the case because the plaintiffs didn’t have standing.

As the local Indianapolis blog Advance Indiana noted when the news first broke, many news organizations interpreted this to mean that there was a prayer ban in the first place. The original court ruling just barred sectarian prayers, whatever that means. Indiana’s nearly two-century tradition of opening General Assembly sessions with guest prayers didn’t go anywhere. The prayers were just limited in what they could say to the Almighty.

As later stories noted, this just means that the speech limits are gone for now, but this legal battle is far from over:

In its 2-1 opinion, the court ruled there were no expenditures directly tied to the prayers. Therefore, as taxpayers, the plaintiffs had no standing to sue.

But that doesn’t mean the legislature should resume its practice of sectarian prayers, said Ken Falk, an attorney for the ACLU of Indiana.

“The one bit of caution is that the 7th Circuit did not approve the prayer practices, and I would hope that the result of this is that the state does not go back to this practice of sectarian prayer,” Falk said. “If that would occur, there could be people who could bring litigation.”

An angle that most reporters have focused on is how the legal battle, which was originally started by a Republican leader of the House, continued when the Democrats took over the House in the 2006 elections. Part of it deals with how legislatures don’t like to be told what they can do in their part of the State House. The other part is that Democrats are pretty sensitive to the fact that many people in this state listen to their pastors before they listen to ACLU directors. Throughout this story you see references to religious freedom, free speech and their universal importance to people of all faiths.

A major aspect missing from the stories is any direct quotation from the kind of prayers that were offered. I wish I could get myself a more complete list, but Advance Indiana says that one of them was a “sing-along to a song entitled ‘Let’s Take a Walk With Jesus.’” Needless to say, non-Christian members of the House didn’t feel very comfortable with that, and this lawsuit came about as a result. That lack of context leaves readers thinking that all that was banned was the mention of Jesus at the end of the prayer.

In a rather unexpected development to non-Hoosiers, the South Bend Tribune has a story headlined with a quote by the Democratic House Speaker B. Patrick Bauer, D-South Bend, saying that the “Christian majority justifies House prayer.” Last time I checked, you’re not supposed to start your stories with a question for the reader, but that is what Jeff Parrott does in leading off his story on the subject:

Does might make right?

It does when it comes to the issue of Statehouse prayer, House Speaker B. Patrick Bauer, D-South Bend, said Wednesday. …

“The majority of people in this state are Christian,” Bauer said, pausing a few seconds before continuing, “but if you exclude a minority, then you have a problem.”

Bauer derided as “censorship” a November 2005 injunction, ordered by U.S. District Judge David Hamilton, against the House’s long-held tradition of preceding business with prayers that contain words such as Jesus Christ and savior.

“Censoring one particular religion is almost reverse discrimination,” Bauer said. “We’ve had the Jewish faith and even a Muslim over the years.”

In some ways the headline writers for this story cherry-picked the “majority of people” quote, but nevertheless, he said it, and if you think about it, the statement doesn’t really make much sense. Would it have been helpful to note that the civil rights aren’t there to protect the rights of the majority, but to protect the rights of the minority, however small? Maybe, but that comes close to crossing the line of a reporter injecting his views into the story.

The next development in this story is what kind of prayer will be offered in House in the next session of the General Assembly. That will make for an interesting decision by whoever is asked to make that prayer. Whatever way you cut it, prayer has become a political football in Indiana, and the Democrats are loathe to lose the conservative Democratic voters, many of them in the southern portions of the state, to Republican candidates. The ACLU has maintained that it will file suit the next time a regular participant expresses discomfort with the prayers.

The story is now in the hands of those who are called to pray.

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Wicca in the heartland

pagan circleThe Chicago Tribune had a potentially tremendous story to tell Sunday about a witch school setting up shop in Rossville, Ill., a small, economically struggling town in the heartland. The perspective of the story — about Wiccans trying to fit into a Bible Belt community — is what first jumped out at me.

By the fourth paragraph, a resident was quoted saying the Salam Witch Trials were back and traditional churches and members of the community were rallying against this strange group that had set up shop in a local storefront. The story, which has a reasonably interesting ending that I won’t share in this post, seems headed toward a brawl:

In a town that sometimes feels closer to the Bible Belt than to the city, churches had been holding weekly prayer sessions for months in hopes of driving the outsiders away. They also had erected a billboard denouncing Wiccan beliefs, proclaiming, “Worship the Creator not Creation.”

Fueling their sense of urgency was a ball held by the Wiccans last weekend to celebrate Samhain, their new year’s festival, which falls on Halloween.

As more than 150 people filed into the shuttered high school Wednesday night for the meeting, Andy Thomas, youth minister at the Rossville Church of Christ, said residents had a spiritual responsibility to drive the witches out. If they didn’t, he said, young people were in danger of being pulled off the Christian path.

“Rossville has fallen on hard times,” Thomas said. “The school closed. This is a popular place for meth. We’re like, ‘Great, now a witch school.’ It feels like we’re being attacked.”

Donald Lewis, who serves as CEO of Witch School International, said it was the other way around.

“They’re trying to make us scapegoats,” he said as he slipped into the meeting unannounced.

Lewis, a rotund 44-year-old with a silver ponytail and goatee, said he started the online school in 2001 with two friends he met through the neo-pagan community in Chicago. All three were devoted practitioners of Wicca, a controversial movement that, by some estimates, has hundreds of thousands of adherents nationwide.

Five of the school’s administrators operate out of a humble, white building with a green awning on Chicago Street, the main strip in downtown Rossville, which looks like an abandoned Hollywood set of a small town. Their office, which consists of five computers, copiers and a fax machine, is in the back of a store that sells silver wands, incense and colored candles wrapped in spells.

Attached to the story is a decent video that does a good job of putting names with faces. This was the future of journalism 10 years ago. It’s great to see it in practice.

The Wiccans’ side of the story isn’t entirely ignored. They get their quotes in there, but this story is definitely less about them than about the town’s residents. A reader of ours, Christopher, mentioned in a note to us that the story is largely about a community dealing with “economic decline, arson, and drugs.”

Megan Twohey, the reporter on this story, delves into the background of the Wiccan group. They left Chicago in search of cheaper rents and headed for small-town America. They moved to Rossville after a “lynch mob” drove them out of another town, and now they’re dealing with hostile neighbors once again. And by the way, Rossville’s downtown probably doesn’t look as much like a Hollywood set than, um, a downtown of an average Midwestern small city. (Since when does a Hollywood set make a better illustration than real life?)

A lot of this reminds me of the “pentancle wars” that the Department of Veterans Affairs dealt with over that last few years.

The story ends up being about how the Bible Belt responds to outsiders and less about what Wiccans believe. There are references to their beliefs, but there is little mention that Wiccans represent a very diverse group of traditions. From what I understand, Wicca isn’t exactly some strange East Coast religion that Middle America knows nothing about. Middle America is where Wicca has quite a number of followers, depending on how you count them, but that doesn’t mean they’re always accepted, as we see in this story.

This story had only broad, unsubstantiated estimates on the number of Wiccans. The general point of the story is about whether other religions are tolerated in the heartland. As Christopher said in his note, “the story is really about the local Christian community” and Wiccans are “little more than a foil for the community’s fears and anxieties.”

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