An Ex-Mouseketeer’s Journey Back to Christianity

So the crop of Mouseketeer’s from the early nineties was fairly fertile. Britney Spears, Justin Timberlake, Keri Russell, Christina Aguilera, and Ryan Goslin. But the lesser known story of one former Disney teen star is pretty interesting. This is from an article in The New York Times:

But Teo Bishop, while keeping up a career in pop music, accomplished something less predictable and altogether curiouser. Beginning about three years ago, he began a rise to prominence in the Pagan community. Then, last month, he shocked the Pagan community by re-embracing Christianity.

“I’m overwhelmed with thoughts of Jesus,” Mr. Bishopwrote on Oct. 13, on his blog, Bishop in the Grove. “Jesus and God and Christianity and the Lord’s Prayer and compassion and forgiveness and hope. … I don’t know what to do with all of this.”

For American Pagans, Mr. Bishop’s defecting to a big, bad mainstream religion is bigger news than winning a Grammy, bigger than shooting a Vanity Fair cover. If you’re a Druid, a Wiccan or any of the nature-religion followers grouped under the label Pagan, you’re not talking about Britney, JT or Xtina. You’re talking Teo Bishop.

But for you Disney fans, we’ll take a step back. The Mouseketeer you knew from 1991 to 1995 went by his given name, Matt Morris. He was a clean-cut Episcopalian from Denver. After the show ended, he worked as a songwriter, his compositions recorded by big names like Ms. Aguilera, Mr. Timberlake and Kelly Clarkson.

In 2010, Mr. Bishop — we’ll get to the name change in a moment — released his own album on Mr. Timberlake’s record label. As Matt Morris, he performed on “Late Show With David Letterman” and on Ellen DeGeneres’s show, where Mr. Timberlake joined him for a duet.

But away from network TV, he was developing a second identity. For several years, ever since his husband had suggested that he explore Druidry, Mr. Bishop had begun quietly to learn about that neo-Celtic tradition. He joined the Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids, a British order. In 2009, using the pen name Teo Bishop, he began blogging about his new spirituality, and in late 2010, he kicked off what became his main site, Bishop in the Grove.

Then something unexpected happened:

By 2013, Mr. Bishop made the cover of Witches & Pagans magazine. That issue was still on the newsstands on Oct. 13, when Mr. Bishop wrote online about the new Christian complications in his spiritual life.

In that post, Mr. Bishop told of an encounter with a woman, probably homeless, sitting next to her shopping cart. He gave her some food. “God bless you,” she said to him. That exchange stayed with him, and he soon felt himself called back to God — to a Christian conception of God.

About three weeks ago, he attended an Episcopal church in his hometown, Portland, Ore. He decided beforehand that he would hold nothing back, that he would pray the liturgy despite lingering misgivings about Christianity. “ ‘I am just going to give myself over to it, not intellectualize it,’ ” he told himself. “It was an amazing experience.”

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  • kenofken

    Mr. Bishop’s importance to and within the pagan community has been greatly over-played by both mainstream and pagan media sources. He had no organic standing of any depth in the community as a leader or elder of any sort. His entire career as a pagan spanned three or four years at most and was a fairly tentative exploration and discernment period. It was clear from his writings that he never really left Christianity. He just had some negative baggage about institutional church/culture war issues. During this exploration, he clearly was disappointed to find that pagan religion does not furnish the same or equivalent answers to salvation etc. as does Christianity.

    There’s nothing wrong with that, but he wasn’t a “pagan’s pagan” or the founder of a new tradition or author of any seminal works in the field. He wasn’t an Isaac Bonewits or Selena Fox or Starhawk. His rise to prominence and buzz about his departure come from his celebrity status, which he skillfully cultivated in the pagan blogosphere and on social media channels. The timing of his conversion itself is very interesting, inasmuch as it happened to maximize his publicity in Pagan, Christian AND secular national news media all at the same time.

    I wish him well on his journey, but the inevitable “high-ranking pagan defects” narrative needs some perspective.