Guest Post: Pagan-Christian Dialogue, Mistrust, and a Difficult (But Needful) Way Forward

Today, we welcome John W. Morehead, a researcher, writer, and speaker and advocate for positive Pagan-Christian interfaith dialogue. Recently I wrote to you all about the importance of intrafaith work in the Pagan movement to bring more understanding and better communication between traditions. But my wider inspiration for that is the kind of interfaith work that John speaks of so passionately here. Think Pagans and Evangelicals have nothing to say to each other? (Confused about what the difference is between an Evangelical and a fundamentalist Christian?) Read on…


Last week, I enjoyed a multi-religious conversation in a podcast that brought two Pagans together with two Evangelicals to respond to questions related to what divides and what might bring together our religious communities. I always come away encouraged from such interactions, but reading comments by Pagans to this conversation on a Pagan blog, I was all too quickly reminded of the uphill challenges and obstacles associated with such things. We have a long way to go, and perhaps some in our communities will never be able to make the journey with trust.

Recently, my colleague Paul Louis Metzger invited two Pagan friends and colleagues, Mike Stygal, soon to be President of the National Pagan Federation, and Jason Pitzl-Waters of The Wild Hunt blog, along with myself to be part of a conversation. The hour-long podcast went very well, and put forth the groundwork for more in-depth discussions in the near future concerning significant issues and challenges facing our religious communities. This included concerns Pagans have about Christians and proselytizing, Christian privilege in the public square, and what public context might be best for a Pagan voice such as secular or multi-faith. The ability to raise and respond to difficult questions was made possible by the trust that has developed among us over time as we have gotten to know each other, watched each other’s public work within and outside of our religious traditions, and through our engagement of each other in private and public forums. I think I can speak for all of us by saying that we came away from the discussion feeling good, and in hoping that members of our religious communities would find something of value, as well as challenge in our conversation.

Following the publishing of the podcast we began to promote it for listeners. One such promotion for the Pagan community came in the post by Jason in The Wild Hunt. I found Jason’s description and commentary on the podcast and its broader context of Pagans and interfaith dialogue both interesting and challenging. Jason’s humility shone through as he briefly mentioned his own contribution to the podcast and recent dialogue efforts, but then quickly highlighted the good work of many other Pagan examples in dialogue. It was heartening to see a mention of Pagans who have been involved in these activities, and I hope to cross paths with more of them in the near future. But in another way, Jason’s post was challenging, not in the post itself, but in many of the comments that came in response to it.

I spent my Sunday afternoon reading the comments and reflecting on what they meant for Pagan-Christian dialogue. Several responses indicated that many Pagans were just as distrustful of Evangelicals (even those who seemingly make every effort to engage positively as trustworthy conversation partners) as many Evangelicals are wary of Pagans. Some of these negative comments included questions about why Pagans should seek the approval of Christians through dialogue (a curious question in that this was never stated as a goal in the podcast), concerns that Evangelical involvement in dialogue was just a ruse for the conversion of Pagans, that Evangelicals have made no attempt at understanding Paganism, and that some of us “stealthier, newfangled evangelicals” have managed to dupe “some Big Name Pagans” through our dialogue efforts. I left a few comments in response to some of these concerns, and my hope is that even if those who left the original sentiments won’t be persuaded by my feedback, that perhaps other Pagan readers might find the responsive thoughts of interest in the name of balance.

Will we ever be able to move beyond our history of ignorance, misunderstanding, misrepresentation, bigotry, and combativeness? In my more pessimistic moments I doubt it, but then I am reminded that efforts at understanding each other through relationships and conversations are really in their infancy. Patience and a thick skin are in order. As a part of working through this division, I share the following observations and reflections for those Pagans willing to listen.

First, there are some Evangelicals who have honestly worked at pursuing a better way in understanding and engaging Pagans. While some continue to distrust us, we have reached into the best of the Christian tradition in order to put forward a new way of interreligious engagement as we try to follow the way of Jesus in his engagements with Gentiles and Samaritans as a model for our interactions with Pagans and those of other minority religions. This has meant seeking understanding in response to ignorance, and we have sought out the best representatives of Paganism and good source material, rather than relying upon problematic and alarmist material produced within Evangelicalism. We also view our Pagan contacts, not as monstrous “others,” but instead as fellow human beings sharing a planet burdened by violence and war, often fueled by religion. We have also developed relationships with Pagans in the form of genuine friendships that have value in and of themselves, not as pragmatic means to the end of evangelism. Although sharing the pathway of Jesus is part of the Christian DNA, just as sharing the essence of the religious message is an essential part of many religious traditions, nevertheless, I recognize that sharing our message with the hopes of persuasion is not the only element of interreligious interactions, and that if it is not welcomed by a dialogue partner and we persist then we quickly move into unethical territory of proselytizing. I have also taken the additional step of countering misinformation and the misrepresentation of Paganism, both within Evangelicalism as well as outside of it in the secular media.

These efforts have at times come at a cost within my religious community. Evangelicalism has a strong sense of its boundaries, of who is in and who is out, and a as a result at times I have become a concern to that group of self-appointed gatekeepers who police Evangelicalism’s borders. Some of my work on behalf of Pagans and other minority religions has drawn the criticism of these Evangelicals who view me as liberal, postmodern, a compromiser, perhaps even covertly Pagan. Such criticism is not always easy to bear, but I try to take it in stride. In my view being the focus of concern and criticism from some in my own religious community is worth the benefits that more positive forms of engagement between Christians and Pagans bring, and it also allows me to be involved in the peacemaking that Jesus called his followers to be involved in.

Second, it seems to be as if both Evangelicalism and Paganism face continuing challenges from the more conservative, if not fundamentalist elements of their religious communities. Although discussion of fundamentalism in regards to Christianity is familiar territory, it may seem strange to consider it in relation to Paganism. But consider the recent discussions of it within the Pagan community.

In January of this year Sabina Magliocco gave a presentation at the Conference for Contemporary Pagan Studies titled “The Rise of Pagan Fundamentalism.” As she describes in her guest post at The Wild Hunt, her goal for the presentation was “open discussion and critical self-reflection” among Pagans which she sees as necessary for the health of the movement. In her presentation and subsequent follow up discussion she provided clarification on what she meant by “Pagan fundamentalism.” As stated above, it may seem strange or inappropriate to apply a term that originally referred to a segment of Protestant Christianity in terms of its very literal interpretation of the biblical text, and practices of withdrawal and hostility toward culture and other religions, and then to try to apply this to Paganism. Magliocco is aware of this, and recognizes that even with a modification of the term, its application to Paganism is not without its difficulties. Magliocco also recognizes that the term continues to be used in ways that stigmatize others, but she defines it in part as an inflexible form of ideology that precludes questioning and which involves boundary-setting, and where those who disagree are labeled as enemies or heretics. In her discussion of the application of fundamentalism to Paganism, she recognizes that the term does not apply to many Pagans, but she also notes that there has been a lot of discussion among Pagans on the Internet in regards to “a single correct form of belief, and the demonization of those who hold different beliefs and opinions.”

Chas Clifton has also shared his thoughts on Pagan fundamentalism. In his view, once the label or the concept is applied toward others you have “declared that nothing those people say is worthwhile, that they have nothing to teach you, and that they should just sit down and shut up.” Magliocco’s and Clifton’s discussion of Pagan fundamentalism is in regards to internal disputes within the Pagan community, but having noted the context of recent conversations on this issue, I believe the term and discussion is useful, and that it relates not only to internal matters within Paganism, but also externally in terms of how the Pagan community chooses to posture itself in regards to interreligious engagement, particularly in the case of Pagan and Christian interactions.

In his fine book Fundamentalism and American Culture, George Marsden notes that Protestant fundamentalists have had an “anti-cultural bias.” This has also been a feature of segments of Protestant Evangelicalism, particularly in terms of responses to pluralism and the increasing profile of minority religions, especially Paganism and Islam. Evangelicals with fundamentalist tendencies have tended to view minority religions as evil, even monstrous, and with this has come mistrust and strict opposition seen as the only appropriate way forward. This fundamentalist strain within Evangelicalism can also be seen within aspects of Paganism.

In 2008, Witchvox featured an article by Jedi Gordy titled “Future of Paganism” which mentioned some troubling parallels between Christian fundamentalism and Paganism. Gordy wrote in part:

This article is on something most of us dislike: Christianity. But it is more on how modern Paganism is BECOMING much like Fundamentalist Christianity. We claim to be enlightened (which we should be to become the third degree). We claim to be tolerant. We claim to be righteous and pure. Then tell me this: Why do I hear so many of us slamming the “big three” (Judaism, Christianity, and Islam) and calling those who call us out on our hate-speak “Christians” or other names?

More recently I have observed Pagan fundamentalism in one form that relates to Christianity in terms of alarm-sounding and exposé. This is precisely the type of approach that Pagans have decried for years when they are the object of scrutiny by Evangelicals, and now the same type of problematic approach is being used by Pagans.

If we pause to reflect on that element of fundamentalism with the tendency toward a narrow mindedness and defensiveness in regards to those outside our religious boundaries, and the related practice of applying the label “enemies” and cutting off discussion, then perhaps fundamentalism is a problem for Evangelicalism and Paganism alike, both within and outside our traditions. In the discussion above fundamentalist aspects of the Pagan community will hopefully raise cause for concern for some Pagans, and it certainly demonstrates a major obstacle to more positive ways of engaging Christians. Perhaps the time has come for those supportive of more positive forms of engagement in the Pagan and Christian communities to work together in attempts at persuading their more conservative or fundamentalist members of the benefits of conversations involving religious diplomacy. Over time through relationships and demonstrations of good will we can come to view each other as “trustworthy rivals” living in peaceful tension over our disagreements.

I understand the mistrust that many Pagans have toward Christians and the forms of Christianity that have undergirded our hostile interactions with the Pagan community. But it would seem to me that we have limited options in the way forward. We can try to ignore each other, but given our history of animosity, and the increasing presence of Paganism in the public square, this does not seem like a viable option. We can continue to distrust and demonize each other, but should two traditions that claim central elements of peacemaking contribute to the religious tensions of our country and our world? If these two options are untenable, then I suggest that as difficult as it may be for some in our religious communities, that religious diplomacy is the best way forward. It will be difficult to be sure, and we will continue to stumble along the way, but if we are to live in accordance with the best of our religious pathways as neighbors in a multi-faith world, surely this struggle is better than those we have been putting our energies into in the past. I hope an increasing number of Pagans and Evangelicals will join me.


John W. MoreheadJohn Morehead is the Custodian of the Evangelical Chapter of the Foundation for Religious Diplomacy. He is the editor of Beyond the Burning Times: A Pagan and Christian in Dialogue (Lion, 2008), and has been involved in interreligious engagement in the contexts of Islam, Mormonism, Paganism, and Humanism.

 

  • steve whiteraven

    The problem with having any dialogue with Christianity is varied and well almost impossible there are 3 things apart from their belief that they have the only truth, who are you going to explain your faith to and that they may ….understand it
    1 individual Christians
    2 different Christian sects/groups/definitions.
    2 mainstream Christianity e.g. Anglican /catholic
    just that basics will make it almost impossible when you have Christians reading books that are titled things like from witchcraft to Christ ..demonising paganism in all its forms I have often heard preachers demonising paganism in their church (and not in way out fundi churches)
    I have in the past received abuse from a Christian church and its members to the point where they were standing outside my house praying against us …(and they call me evil)
    I seen a group that stood outside a new age shop prying for all the people who went in the shop ..and handing out Christian tracts to them .
    this isn’t in some backwoods town in the bible belt was in the uk and from a Baptist church .
    now how can you have any dialogue with people like that ?.
    and yes I know Christians who are good people too honest and upstanding in their faith who do good work because they care not because they want to look good in front 0f their fellow congregation .
    but all in all Christianity is I am sure not what it was supposed to be

    • Christopher Blackwell

      Steve, You do with Christians what you do with the various Pagan communities, you talk with those that are willing to talk and listen and you ignore those that are closed minded.

      As a Wiccan when I first started to have conversations with Heathens I had to overcome some strong negative stereotypes that they had about Wiccans. But I had to get past my own misconceptions of Heathens. Sure to this day I will run into a few who don’t want to talk to a Wiccan, but I have many other thoughtful Heathens willing to talk and listen. I must be willing to listen as well and allow that they are going to have idea that would not fit me, but then they really don’t need to fit me, if it works for them.

      It is much the same with dealing with Christians. They have to understand there is no chance of me converting. If they can deal with that, then we will get along. I have had three Christian ministers for friends at various times. I am valuable to them because they can talk about things that they dare not talk about to their congregations. Often the minister is walking a thin line, in his church, not to upset one faction or another in his church. Often their work load is way above what they are paid and they live in a glass fishbowl, as does everyone in their immediate family.

      • steve whiteraven

        I suppose over the years I have developed a negative view of Christianity partly because I was years ago a member of an evangelical church and spent many years evangelizing in London helping to plant 2 new churches . I gradually became more and more sceptical not of the god but of the religion , especially the way it talked and referred not only of other religions but about other branches of its own religion ..ie referring to the catholic bread as the death cookie, and that wasn’t the worst of it .because at the time I started working on an inner city project (secular) I met and dealt with a lot of people form Islamic faith to hindi and others and found they were not in their religion what I had been led to believe by the church . over time I met the goddess ..well she met me really and got to know the gods so became pagan .
        I see the church speak I know when they are using pat answers fed tp them by narrow thinking church leaders
        my experience with chrsitians since has always been they try and convert me cant so resort to …either I will go to hell or their favourite when they finish with “I will pray for you ” I of course offer to do the same for them ..but thing is I don’t have any animosity towards the belief in jesus or god etc .
        tbh I don’t care what they believe mostly I don’t believe in trying to convert and don’t want them to attempt to convert me if you see what I mean ..I am probably rambling lol but that’s why I think any sensible dialogue with chrsitians is almost impossible

        • http://www.religious-diplomacy.org/evangelichapter John W. Morehead

          Steve, I am sorry for your negative experiences with the church and Christians. But perhaps if you step back you can see that in the podcast mentioned in my post where two Evangelicals and two Pagans pursue their positive relationship and dialogue, just as in the book discussion I edited between Gus diZerega and Philip Johnson in Beyond the Burning Times (Lion, 2008), sensible dialogue with Christians is possible if rare, and if members on both sides work through the challenges it can become a greater possibility.

  • http://aediculaantinoi.wordpress.com P. Sufenas Virius Lupus

    I find your overall points here very good, John. This is certainly an effort I support.

    At the same time–having been someone who has been accused of “fundamentalism” in recent history for having stated some of my opinions openly–I find some of what you’re saying problematic. In particular, this section:

    Perhaps the time has come for those supportive of more positive forms of engagement in the Pagan and Christian communities to work together in attempts at persuading their more conservative or fundamentalist members of the benefits of conversations involving religious diplomacy. Over time through relationships and demonstrations of good will we can come to view each other as “trustworthy rivals” living in peaceful tension over our disagreements.

    This is presuming a notion that there is a “right” way forward, and that anyone opposed to that “right” way should, under the pressure of persuasion, be guided toward accepting the error of their ways and becoming “right.” The reason that I find this particularly problematic is because a lot of these accusations of “fundamentalism” get thrown around within modern Paganism and polytheism because someone (often, though not always, a polytheist like myself) states a theological opinion, or attempts to nuance the definition of a particular term or concept. Someone disagrees with them, says “You’re not the boss of me,” and then starts saying that the definition-offerer is a “fundamentalist.” And, the reason I find this particularly problematic, upsetting, and disturbing in my own case is that I am completely and entirely committed to dialogue with, and even making formal and ritually-recognized alliances with, people and groups whose theologies do not 100% (or even, in many cases, 50%!) agree with my own. This has taken place with Pagans and polytheists thus far, but the intention has been to extend it to other religions as well, including Christianity, Judaism, and Islam (though I have the least hope for the first and third of those, but mostly the third).

    To me, for various reasons, words do actually mean something, and correct and consistent usage of them is an important part of my own practice, as thus far established, as well as it is still in development. The thought that “pluralism” equals “relativism” is, to me, a very shoddy understanding; I certainly don’t have to agree with someone to respect them or treat them (and see them) as a human being with their own inherent dignity and sovereignty. The notion that some seem to be pushing, that I have to change my definitions and understandings of some terms or ideas to be more in accord with their own self-understandings or preferred definitions, though, in order to do really be respecting and accepting them seems to me to be problematic, and symptomatic of its own desire to have the boundaries of one’s own definitions not only respected, but policed and enforced upon others–in other words, “fundamentalism”! I am committed, however, to maintaining dialogue with those who disagree in these manners, and not to dismiss them or their concerns…and yet, it’s difficult to do that when their stance is so adversarial in the process.

    Groups and individuals that have more rigid boundaries and definitions in terms of their theologies and practices will always have trouble with me, my practices, and my groups because of our syncretistic tendencies, and also because we are openly and unapologetically queer…and yet, because I have dared to state a few definitions that I think are useful and applicable, and might be potentially useful for others, I’m the fundamentalist…!?!

    I honestly feel like the very use of the terminology of “fundamentalism” is so problematic when employed within the realm of modern Paganism that it creates more problems than it solves. The Pagan and polytheist tendency to praise pluralism while not upholding it is at the root of this issue…and, perhaps using that terminology would be more useful and apt for understanding the difficulties our particular religious communities face.

    In any case, thanks very much for engaging in this discussion and this important work!

    • Christopher Scott Thompson

      Personally, I don’t think the term “fundamentalist” should be thrown around loosely or applied to people who are simply discussing definitions or setting boundaries. On the other hand, I have seen a few articles and blogs by people promoting a hard polytheist theology through open contempt of all other pagan theologies- referring to them as “impious” etc. In my view, that could well be described as fundamentalism.

  • http://Cprsource@gmail.com Peter ybing

    “Although sharing the pathway of Jesus is part of the Christian DNA, just as sharing the essence of the religious message is an essential part of many religious traditions, nevertheless, I recognize that sharing our message with the hopes of persuasion is not the only element of interreligious interactions, and that if it is not welcomed by a dialogue partner and we persist then we quickly move into unethical territory of proselytizing.”

    In the above comment the author gets to the heart of the matter. It is not in “persisting” that you move into unwelcome proselytizing, it is in the initual attempt. For Many Pagans any and all attempts to bring others to your beliefs is out of line. If your community wants to have open communication with Pagans an understanding on this absolute ethic prohibiting this behavior will go far in opening the lines of communication. Over and over many of us have had the experience of believing we are in open respectful communication with Evangelicals only to discover the descussions end in the same place, an insulting attempt to convert. I believe this is the only truly significant issue in opening a meaningful diologue. If we say we are Pagan, the statement includes an implicitet meaning that to start to attempt religious evagelism will be viewed as a violation of trust.

    • http://www.religious-diplomacy.org/evangelichapter John W. Morehead

      Peter, thank you for interacting with my essay. Before I respond specifically I would refer you to my interview at the Alternative Religion Educational Network linked to in the essay. There I discuss a little more my thoughts on evangelism. But moving to a specific response, it is my view that all religious adherents have essential elements of their religious belief and practice that are also intimately connected to the individual. To ask them not to bring a part of that to the table would be inappropriate, whether on the Christian or Pagan side. So while Christians must always be mindful of Jesus’ call to share his message, they must also be mindful that many (but not all in my experience) do not want to hear this, or that there must somehow be an “absolute ethic prohibiting this behavior.” I suggest this might be a workable “middle-way” for our communities in relationships and dialogue, and that it can contribute to trust as it has in the context of the podcast relationships mentioned in the essay.

      Lupus, I can’t comment on the lively internal discussions within Paganism at present about fundamentalism, but cited them to note that both of our religious communities have this element, and that for me one of the problematic elements of it is the negative, dismissing, and confrontational ways of engaging those outside of one’s religious community. Yes, this does assume there is a right or at least better way of engaging, and I have argued for just this in some of my essays at Patheos on the Evangelical channel where I have tapped into the best of the Christian tradition in the biblical record and the example of Jesus to provide an appropriate foundation for those in Evangelicalism who want to move beyond our confrontational ways of engaging those in other religions. So while I appreciate your concern about whether there is a right way, I believe there is, and that it can be demonstrated not only within our religious tradition which converge over the idea of treating others as we would like to be treated, but also through good social science and psychological data on conflict resolution. If you feel more comfortable setting aside the label “fundamentalist” I have no problem with this, so long as we are honest in our religious communities about the challenges we face from those vehemently opposed to civil ways of engagement. Thank you for your kind comments about my essay and for interacting with my ideas.

      • http://Cprsource@gmail.com Peter ybing

        John,

        It is a basic tenent of interfaith that those at the table do not engage in attempting to convert others ever. You argument that it is inappropriate to ask this demonistrates my very point. This is why this discussion is needed. This behavior is what keeps evangelicals from the interfaith table. It is not up to the interfaith movement to ‘change the rules’ for one belief system. It is up to eaangelicals to decide if they are willing to take a seat at the table and engage with an already established system. On the more Pagan specific path your argument proposed that evangelicals can engage in attempts to convert untill told they are unwelcome. On this issue I can promise you, such a course is a great way not to be invited back, ever. Those engaging in interfaith efforts are leaders in the Pagan community, not lost children in need of being saved. Would you also attempt to convers a Catholic priest?, a Budest, or a Jewish Rabbi? Doing so is insulting, these are religious leaders not in need intervention. Asking to be let in the door, without disavowing intent to convert, not going to happen. Our communities are made up of great individuals involved in relationship with diety, not sheep in need of a shepard. Yes we have lots to discuss, many other issues we should have frank discussions about, as soon as your community can committ to the same principles all other religious communities do in interfaith diologue, you would be welcome at the table.

        • http://www.religious-diplomacy.org/evangelichapter John W. Morehead

          Peter, perhaps I should have spelled out in this essay that I am not an advocate of interfaith so much as religious diplomacy. I have written a brief essay contrasting the differences in approaches that I will link to at the end of this comment, but to summarize interfaith tends toward a minimizing of important differences with a focus on common ground, while religious diplomacy also seeks common ground but recognizes that our differences are significant and must be taken into consideration so that we can come to view each other as trustworthy partners even where we disagree. This includes a discussion of the elements central to one’s religious tradition and identity, such as evangelism for those religious traditions like Christianity where this is important. But as I stated, it need not be drawn upon even as an element of a Christian faith identity if it is not welcomed by the Pagan dialogue partner. This proposal has been embraced by Pagans I have dialogued with, and some have even shared their opinions that they have no problem with a religious adherent sharing their message in persuasive ways, and that they as Pagans do this as well. So while it may be a concern for many Pagans, it is not for all, and we can surely work through it where Pagans are open to my proposal of a middle way. For a contrast of interfaith with religious diplomacy see my Patheos piece interacting with the approach of Eboo Patel: http://www.patheos.com/Evangelical/Interfaith-and-Religious-Difference-John-Morehead-02-08-2012.html

          • Peter Dybing

            I find no middle way in what you are proposing. Your lack of support for interfaith work and misleading statements about the nature of interfaith show your true intent to convert Pagans. Also Pagans that I know do not share their path in a “persuasive way” such behavior is generally not accepted in our community. Join the interfaith movement or stop selling your efforts as something they are not. By holding on to your need to convert you show disrespect to all whom you come into contact with. In addition please stop refering to the issue as engaging with Christians. I know many great Christians involved in interfaith, they are compassionate, open minded and do NOT attempt to convert. You represent a small sub group of Christian Evebgalists not Christianity.

  • WillowRaven

    I am pagan and have been following a pagan path for most of my life … all of my life if you include the time that I never really had a name for what I believed, only that I knew it didn’t “match” what I had been taught while growing up and attending my local Protestant (Congregational) church. However, while I am pagan – and proud of it – I also have many friends and family members who follow a variety of different faiths (including Christianity in its various forms) and I am honestly, genuinely respectful of what/how they believe – and (for the most part) they have a reciprocal respect for mine. I have been lucky that, for the most part, my beliefs are accepted as mine, and that I do not try to shove it down other’s throats …and only ask that others respect me in that regard and not try to do it to me. In your article, you write, “I recognize that sharing our message with the hopes of persuasion is not the only element of interreligious interactions”, and I think you hit the nail right on the head in regards to why Pagans – in general – are mistrustful of Christians. It is not that we are out to ‘prove’ anything to those in the Christian community. We are just tired – so very tired – of the general mindset that if we are not Christian, then somehow we need to be converted, that we need to be “persuaded” in to your way of thinking. Why can’t you just accept that we believe what we believe and that any kind of interaction with us is not with a ‘hope of persuasion’ attached? And, while we are on the subject… if you have to “persuade” someone to a way of thinking, is it really real? If the roles were reversed, would you appreciate a Pagan (or Jew, or Buddhist, for example) to try and “persuade” you to their way of thinking, to their religion, just because YOU don’t follow it? I mean… if you follow your heart, and your soul… then there is no “persuasion”… it just “is”. The religion (or faith, or spiritual belief ..whatever you wish to call it) is a very personal thing … it is not up to someone else to tell you what/who/how to believe… your connection to the Divine is special indeed. And whether we call it God, Goddess, Buddha, Allah, the All or any other name, it should be respected, and appreciated, and revered. If I can respect that Christians world-wide call their concept of the Divine, “God”, then I would hope I could get respect for calling my concept of the Divine, “Goddess”, just as much.

  • Elizabeth McNally

    It was a revelation to me to encounter what I would describe, as you do above, as Pagan Fundies … Who knew! I was raised Roman Catholic, have followed a Pagan path for the last 3 decades, and recently been very involved in interfaith which began with my work in the DC coven I am involved with, Coven of the Spiral Moon. I (a Canadian), Adrian Gibb (an Australian), along with Father Mark Townsend (England), author of The Path of the Blue Raven, and Jesus through Pagan Eyes, founded Hedge Church (a Facebook Church), loosely Christian based, open to all Faiths or none. Our Patron is Father Peter Owen Jones (Around the World in 80 Faiths). I also belong to the Christian Pagan Fellowship, also on Facebook (founded by Adelina St. Claire, author of the Path of a Christian Witch). Both these pages have been very successful in open dialogue between diverse faiths. Hedge Church has people from vast religious paths, and though there have been heated exchanges at times, this sanctuary remains a very positive and safe place for all topics and subjects to be discussed.
    I believe there are many more who are open to dialogue, understanding and friendship between faiths, than the vocal few who hold fear and suspicion. May it be.

  • Sunweaver

    Look! Positive interfaith dialogue! —–> http://www.patheos.com/blogs/agora/2013/03/making-light-interfaith-2-electric-boogaloo/
    We’re doin’ it right.
    [/end shameless self-promotion]

  • Kenneth

    There are of course fundamentalists within modern paganism and there have been since Gardner penned his first public words about Wicca (even well before, if you count the civil war within the Golden Dawn group etc.) We’ve had four solid decades of various Witch Wars and arguments over who has the “real lineage” or tradition, who’s “doing it right” etc., the reconstructionists vs the eclectics, you name it. Like any cultural/religious/social movement, we’re liable to “groupthink” where we try to enforce amorphous orthodoxies and attack those we perceive to be “going off the reservation” or somehow betraying the cause.

    We ought to be cautious about leveling the fundamentalist charge against individuals because it does inflame tensions, but let’s not pretend it doesn’t exist and isn’t a stumbling block to interfaith dialogue. Pagans can be dodgy about dealing with Christians because A) There is a history of legitimate grievance, B) the fundamentalism I just mentioned and C) Paganism has its share of folks who have the social IQ of a stump. Sometimes it’s a mix of these things.

    We ought to entertain overtures from people like Mr. Moorehead for the simple reason that we have nothing to lose. We’ve withstood the most rabid strains of Christianity in ancient and modern times. We know who we are and we live in an increasingly secular and plural society. We are not negotiating from a position of weakness.

    We don’t owe Christians a hearing out of deference or appeasement or, certainly, some Christian imperative to forgive. I would argue that our response to overtures like those of Mr. Moorehead be rooted in the pagan values of hospitality and of honor. The ancient texts and traditions are clear on this matter. When a visitor presents themselves to you in good faith, you take them in and extend them food and whatever else they may need, and their acceptance of that binds them to act honorably toward the host. The gods took this seriously enough that they were known to go undercover and test people on it.

    In tandem with that, honor dictates that we do not fire on a flag of truce to repay a past grievance with the tribe that sent the messenger. None of this means that we should be naive in our dealings, but Moorehead has presented himself time and again with an open hand, and his actions, so far as I know, have also demonstrated good faith. We should receive him and hear him out, and let him prove his intentions or not.

    I don’t think we can set as a precondition that he must abandon his desire to see others consider or join his path. It is fair to insist on transparency and respect. If he or others come to us with the stated intent of a dialogue among equals, that must not be used as an opening or pretext for proselytizing or some other agenda. If it is, it will wipe out the meager store of goodwill that has been built up, and will poison the waters for another generation.

    • Eric DeVries

      I was writing a response to this but it was basically what you said but less eloquent. I would qualify one thing you said however; outside of the social IQ of a stump lobby there is also the deeply invested in being persecuted and oppressed lobby and those folks aren’t going to make peace, they need their favorite enemy. You and Mr. Morehead both made a bunch of great points, I especially like what you said about hospitality.

      • http://www.religious-diplomacy.org/evangelichapter John W. Morehead

        Mr. DeVries, you point out something very important for Pagan and Evangelical alike. Unfortunately, communities do need enemies by and through which they define themselves as the “good guys.” The US did this for years with the former Soviet Union, then with it’s downfall Islam became the enemy post-9/11. Evangelicals for years have defined themselves in turn by way of opposition to Catholicism, Mormons, “the occult,” Pagans, Wiccans, and most recently, Muslims. Through opposition to these “evils,” we posture ourselves as the good and the right, on the side of God and the holy. In your comments you note that there may be a similar dynamic and element within Paganism. I think you can see some of this reflected in the comments here and at The Wild Hunt. This would mean that there would be opposition to more positive forms of engagement because it would mean letting go of Christians as the enemy of the past to be opposed through which at least some Pagans construct their identity. Recognition that our religious communities “need” their “enemies” is the first step in moving beyond this practice, and for Christians, to recognize that we are called by the way of Jesus to “love enemy,” by which the enemy is no longer enemy but neighbor and friend.

    • http://www.religious-diplomacy.org/evangelichapter John W. Morehead

      Kenneth, I couldn’t ask for a more fair hearing from a Pagan. Thank you.

    • http://www.christinehoffkraemer.com Christine Kraemer

      > I would argue that our response to overtures like those of Mr. Morehead be rooted in the pagan values of hospitality and of honor.

      Nicely put.

      • Peter Dybing

        Mr. Morhead would need to take an honorable stance and denounce the need to convert Pagans if he wishes to be so treated. There are many great Christians involved in interfaith. Engaging with those who wish to convert us only serves their agenda. He may be a nice man but his actions to not qualify him to be treated as you suggest.

        • Kenneth

          I don’t have any firsthand dealings with Mr. Moorhead, so I can only go off of what I’ve read by him and about him on Patheos and similar places. I’ve tried to grapple with this issue of the “Great Commission” to the point where I’ve questioned whether any truly agenda-free good faith, meaningful interfaith work is possible. I haven’t settled that question 100% in my mind, but I’ve come to draw some distinctions as I consider the problem of an Evangelical’s (or anyone’s) “need to convert.” I don’t know yet if they’re sufficient distinctions in real world interactions, but they seem useful as working concepts at least.

          The distinction I draw separates and considers the desire of someone like Mr. Moorehead to see me convert and the transparency and honesty of their actions in interfaith work. This is where Mr. Moorehead himself could help clear things up. What is the nature of his “desire” to share Christianity and what does his faith call him to do in that regard? If he simply has some hope that someone will find the same light in his religion he did, I’m not sure that in and of itself is a fatal barrier to dialogue.

          I don’t think any human interactions are completely untainted by some desire to get the other person to do or give something you want. We might hope a family member gets us a job or considers us well in their estate planning. A gay person might fantasize about their straight friend “converting” and being with them, or vice-versa. I might desire that my longtime platonic female coven partner reciprocates the erotic or romantic interest I’ve developed in her. Are these things dishonorable? Not yet, in my book. The honor comes or goes according to how we act on these desires. Deception and exploitation take us from idle desire to dishonorable actions. If we manipulate the other person’s friendship or trust to get us an “in” for our other agendas, then we’ve lied to them. They will (reasonably) assume that we’ve played them from the start. That’s why lottery winners and newly successful celebrities are deeply suspicious of all the new “friends” that seem to come out of the woodwork with their first seven-figure payday.

          For someone like Mr. Moorehead approaching pagans for interfaith, the issue becomes how he reconciles and expresses his desire to share his faith with the agenda-free diplomacy that interfaith is meant to be? Does he feel commanded to bag as many converts as possible by hook or by crook? Or does he just hope the Holy Spirit hits us between the eyes with a wiffle bat one day and opens our eyes to whatever light guide John?

          How does that guide his interaction with us and how transparent is it? If, on day one, he just gives me a standing invite to come check out his church or Bible study group if I want, and leaves it at that, that’s one thing. If, on the other hand, he develops friendships in our little interfaith council for the purpose of creating an “opening” to proselytize, that’s quite another.

          My thinking is that I’d rather deal with someone who is upfront about their theology, respectful of boundaries and transparent in action rather than simply taking those who forswear any hope of conversion, an oath that would have to be tested by time and action anyway.

          This is a difficult question in interfaith work. If we set no boundaries, we will be beset by missionaries and hustlers who will distract from any positive work. On the other hand, if we set the filter mesh too fine, we may effectively exclude Christians altogether or only end up talking with the heterodox and essentially non-theistic Christians or Christo-Pagans, in which case we’re essentially talking to ourselves.

          I’m glad you weighed in on this. We’ve never met, but I know of your work, and your opinions carry a lot of weight with me.

          • http://www.religious-diplomacy.org/evangelichapter John W. Morehead

            Thank you for sharing your appreciation for aspects of my perspective, and yet also your struggles and concern with me as well. You wrote: “My thinking is that I’d rather deal with someone who is upfront about their theology, respectful of boundaries and transparent in action rather than simply taking those who forswear any hope of conversion, an oath that would have to be tested by time and action anyway.” I have tried to be and continue to be transparent about the place of sharing the message of Jesus in my life as a Christian and in my dialogue efforts. In order to be a disciple of Jesus I must be receptive to his call to share his message, but how I do this is crucial, as you yourself note in how this may be received by Pagans. I try to live my life as best I can in keeping with what it means to love others as myself as a Jesus follower, and to offer that lifestyle and message to those who are interested. But I do not engage in unethical proselytizing, I do not share verbally (while I always continue my lifestyle as a part of who and what I am) if my Pagan dialogue partner is not interested in the message, and I most certainly do not force the message on others by coercion “by hook or by crook.” Despite the fearful protestations of those within your community like Apuleius Platonicus, I do not work toward nor expect the “eradication” of other religions. I recognize that the vast majority of those I encounter will retain their present religious commitments, so I am as committed to positive ways of engaging in pluralism. Finally, I do not believe that I have used any dialogue mojo to dupe Pagan leaders into dialogue. This does Christine Hoff Kraemer, Mike Stygal, Jason Pitzl-Waters, Selena Fox, Heather Greene, Gus diZerega, David Dashifen Kees and others a vast disservice and disrespect, unfortunately born out of fear and defensiveness.

            I hope this helps share something by way of a response to your particular concerns. I hope we get to encounter one another in the future where we can pursue such important questions in more depth.

        • http://egregores.blogspot.com Apuleius Platonicus

          Peter Dybing: “Engaging with those who wish to convert us only serves their agenda.” This is a very crucial point. Perhaps it should be an obvious point, but Pagans are by nature tolerant and accepting and so it is against our nature to assume the worst about others. But we really do need to distinguish between Christians generally and Christian missionaries in particular. Especially career missionaries like Morehead, whose full-time job is developing and implementing strategies for the zero-sum-game of “spreading the gospel” at the cost of eradicating all other religions.

        • http://www.religious-diplomacy.org/evangelichapter John W. Morehead

          Mr. Dybing, you assume that denouncing an important aspect of one’s religious tradition as a prerequisite to dialogue is the only way someone can be treated with respect and honor. I challenge this assumption as a topic for dialogue as I have articulated in places like the podcast at New Wine, New Wineskins and my interview with the Alternative Religion Educational Network.

          • Kenneth

            It might be productive to draw a distinction between denouncing an aspect of one’s religion and renouncing the pursuit of that goal within certain settings, ie interfaith dialogue. I’ll try to frame it again in terms of my own religion. When we cast a circle for ritual (which not all pagans do, but many), we call the space inside sacred space. That space, of course, is physically contiguous with the rest of the room or field, and a non-believer would say it’s nothing more than an imaginary circle we traced on the ground. But we consider that space to be utterly apart from the normal time and space and mundane world outside. We leave certain agendas and behaviors outside.

            For a more familiar example, consider a field hospital in war. It is no uncommon thing for enemy and allied soldiers to be treated side by side. They don’t abandon their underlying national identity or cause or enmity while there, but it is understood that it is a neutral ground.

            For interfaith dialogue to work, it is necessary for all involved to consider that space a neutral ground of sorts. We can’t engage each other the way we might on the street or any other venue.

            A question for Apuleius and other is how would “stealth evangelism” really threaten us, assuming that is Mr. Moorehead’s endgame? I see the real risk of wasted time and mistrust in the interfaith group involved, but how many real pagans would be converted by a missionary’s affability? It is very clear that some evangelists are developing strategies for “engaging” us to convert more of us than were ever converted by calling us devil worshippers, but no one who is truly called to their deities and path can be snookered out of it, I don’t think.

        • http://www.christinehoffkraemer.com Christine Kraemer

          I think there are advantages to having the fact that Evangelicals would like to convert others out on the table, as opposed to needing it to be hidden to conform to the usual requirements of interfaith work. I would rather have a conversation about the desire to evangelize and how it is shakes out in a social context (where Evangelicals have radically more political power than many of those they’re evangelizing) than have them pretend that the desire isn’t there. To me, real interfaith work requires that kind of honesty, and I am personally willing to have those conversations.

  • Paul Louis Metzger

    John,

    Thank you for your leadership at the Foundation for Religious Diplomacy. Your work, as reflected in this excellent post, is a much-needed corrective and model for the form of engagement with Pagans and other traditions that Evangelicals such as ourselves must pursue.

  • http://egregores.blogspot.com Apuleius Platonicus

    I wish to congratulate John Morehead on his Chutzpah. He is now openly attempting to insinuate himself into disputes within the Pagan community, in an attempt to promote those voices within our community that he feels are more receptive to his stealth missionary work, while seeking to marginalize anyone who questions the widsom “dialogue” with those whose only motive is the spread of Christianity at the expense of all other religions. But even more remarkable than this breathtaking presumption, is the relative success that Morehead has had in grooming various prominent Pagans as willing accessories to his efforts. It is all very impressive.

    • Peter Dybing

      Well said, any simple search of his past work and affiliations revel his intent!

    • http://www.religious-diplomacy.org/evangelichapter John W. Morehead

      Apuleius Platonicus, I’ve commented on length at your unfortunate approach at The Wild Hunt and will copy it here:

      Unfortunately, you continue to perpetuate the worst kind of misrepresentations, stereotypes, and prejudice toward me and my religious convictions. If you read my guest essay at Sermons form the Mound you will note that I had your work in mind as an example of extreme Pagan fundamentalism which parallels Evangelical counter-cult apologetic work, and which has rightly draw criticism and concern from Pagans and those in minority religions portrayed as “cults.” I have articulated in a recent Pagan-Christian podcast, and in the interview at the Alternative Religion Educational Network, a middle-way approach wherein my commitments to sharing the message of Jesus can be balanced by the concerns of my Pagan dialogue partners about evangelism and conversion, and thus genuine dialogue is possible, and my efforts do not function as a misleading means to the end of conversion. I also recognize that many people will retain the religious commitments of their choice and not decide to embrace the pathway of Jesus, so I am committed to a pluralistic and multi-faith public square where Pagans and members of other minority religions can have a voice and the freedom to practice their religious pathways.

      Yes, Christianity does have an unfortunate history of colonialism, genocide, and the destruction of cultures. I stand against these things and note that not all of Christianity has done this, and that it is not in keeping with the teachings and ethics of Jesus. Therefore, Christianity as a whole cannot be indicted, or every Christian either, simply because of the abuses of some Christians in history. your use of this is an unfortunate ad hominem meant to further prejudice my religious pathway among Pagans as a means of blocking the positive relationships and dialogue now going on. I hope you can one day move beyond your fears and defensiveness to consider a different way of engagement.

      With all due respect, your approach is part of the problem of Pagans and Christians in the past as well as the present, and my essay at Sermons from the Mound was aimed at those in your community who are more open minded, fair, and willing to move beyond the combativeness of the past to work together in a better way forward. You will likely continue your boundary maintenance and counter-Evangelical apologetic efforts, but my hope is that other Pagans will find this just as distasteful as I do and seek something more beneficial for us all. Thanks for the comment and the opportunity to post a counter-point.

      • William Hood

        “Therefore, Christianity as a whole cannot be indicted, or every Christian either, simply because of the abuses of some Christians in history.”

        http://itspronouncedmetrosexual.com/2012/05/list-of-examples-of-christian-privileg/

        You have the above privileges. Those privileges exist as a direct result of the violent imposition of Christian socio-cultural hegemony in the West. Therefore, you directly benefit from the violent imposition of Christian socio-cultural hegemony in the West. Not saying you should be crucified for it, pardon the expression, but this dynamic shouldn’t be ignored or swept under the rug either. Your churches still stand atop many of our temples and holy groves.

      • Kenneth

        At the risk of asking you to repeat yourself, it might be helpful if you spelled out the short version of how you reconcile the “share the word” imperative of your religion with the sensitive nature of interfaith work.

        Where do YOU draw the line between expression of the Great Commission and evangelization/proselytizing? Is the desire to see conversions a primary driver in your wish to engage pagans or an incidental one, or one that you separate to some degree with a firewall? If you and I joined some interfaith council, would I feel like I was in an infomercial for Christ? Would it be something you mentioned right off and then left it as an “open door” thing where I would come to you only if I had the mind to convert, or look into it?

        I realize this is hard to do, but what would the experience of John Moorehead look like, in an interfaith council, to a pagan of reasonable mind? By that I mean someone who isn’t intent on trying you for 2,000 years worth of crimes but who also has had a generally unpleasant or at least unproductive history with Christian proselytizing?

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/leaningintomystery Sarah Twichell

          Kenneth has a good question here. I appreciate your willingness to say that some forms of proselytizing are unethical and hearing what exactly an ethical alternatives looks like for you in the context of religious diplomacy would be useful.

          I share your concern about aiming for the lowest common denominator as a way to do interfaith work, so establishing how relationships of respectful difference can work when the question of evangelizing is on the table seems like an important goal to me.

  • Laura

    Rev. Moorehead,
    First, thank you for listening and attempting to understand. In my experience, few Christians observe this simple courtesy when operating in a religious context.
    Second, I want to point out something that seems to be missing from the discussion: many Pagans are mistrustful of Christians, especially Evangelical Christians, not because they are “fundamentalist” or foolish, but because they have been deeply, deeply wounded by people in the name of Christianity. These wounds are real, and are often caused by people who honestly thought they were behaving the way their religion called them to do. These wounds are one of the common reasons people come to Paganism from Christianity; I think it is safe to say this is not a matter of “just a few individuals” within Paganism who are irrelevant to dialogue or interfaith work. I am not asking you to apologise for, atone for, or attempt to disown the perpatrators; merely to acknowledge that this is a common barrier to dialogue and trust, and be willing at least to address it openly.

    • http://www.religious-diplomacy.org/evangelichapter John W. Morehead

      Laura, thank you for your thoughts on my essay. I am very aware of the negative experiences many Pagans have had with Christians and Christianity. This is, of course, a part of the many obstacles that must be overcome. This is so well known that many Pagans assume this is common knowledge, and given my work for years with Pagans I do too. Given my audience I did not think it necessary to mention what is common knowledge, but given that many Pagans are distrustful of Evangelicals, I am happy to confirm this obvious problem.

  • Christopher Scott Thompson

    The debate on this topic reminds me of the reaction you get from some atheists if you unthinkingly say “god bless you” when they sneeze. Instead of saying “thanks” some will angrily reply “There is no God!” as if the mere existence of belief by others was an intolerable threat to their own integrity. My faith is not a house of cards to be knocked over by a breeze. So Evangelicals want to convert me- so what? They’ll never succeed, but it doesn’t offend me that they believe they should try. It does offend me if they don’t respect my boundaries or if they act condescending about other religions as so many of them do, but I will respectfully listen to the opinions of an Evangelical just as I would those of anyone else.

  • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/asenseofplace Elinor Predota

    John, first let me say that I appreciate very much your efforts towards interreligious dialogue and understanding between Evangelical Christianity and Paganisms. My approach to Evangelical Christians has always been to get them off the topic of what they (you) believe, and onto their (your) experience of the spiritual and the Divine in day to day life, which is something that all spiritual people and people of faith share in some way or other, however different our understandings and language may be.

    It do take issue, though, with the way in which you appear to seek to create a parallel between Christian and Pagan fundamentalisms and interactions. This comes perilously close to a ‘tone’ argument, i.e. someone in a privileged position taking offence at the tone of the responses and debating style of someone in a less privileged – or downright oppressed – position, as a way to attempt to avoid acknowledging their own privilege, or to derail the conversation away from the actual content of the oppressed person’s position onto their own hurt feelings. Legitimate anger on the part of the oppressed is thus swept away in the interests of ‘politeness’, along with what caused the anger in the first place. Having read responses here and at The Wild Hunt, it seems to me that this is at least partly what is going on in the more contentious interactions. (In case you were in any doubt, in this context, you are the one with privilege, and your Pagan respondents are the ones who are oppressed.)

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  • http://cuups.org Christa Landon

    I think it would be a good idea to consider whether “Fundamentalism” actually applies in all the cases where it is used.

    When most people say they are “spiritual but not religious,” what they REALLY mean is that they are religious but not SECTARIAN.

    Sectarianism focuses on the DIFFERENCES and sees them in terms of radical dualism: either you’re with us or you’re against us. It tends to demonify the Other.

    From the 70s I saw a great deal of this within the Pagan movement, even between people who had been trained together. When everyone coins new terms for ideas others have stated before, just to have copyright, it creates a tower of babel. (The Witch Wars were aggravated by sectarianism among Pagans, but narcissism and the structure of Pagan institutions were perhaps more to blame.)

    FYI: Fundamentalism is SECTARIANISM + CREEDALISM. Earlier forms of Xy were orthodox but Fundamentalism was created as a sales/propaganda tool in the late XIXth century.

  • http://cuups.org Christa Landon

    I have had several close friends over the years who were Catholic or Evangelical and knew I was Pagan. These were ALWAYS uncomfortable for me in the beginning.

    Yes, they ALL would have been thrilled to convert me. But they weren’t religious rapists. They were honest enough, and curious enough to engage in a respectful conversation.

    Their RELIGION had declared war on my faith, but they personally were American enough (Quaker? enough) to transcend the harsher commands of their faith. You have to be carefully taught to hate, and they had been selective in learning.

    I think it’s also important for us Pagans to be able to distinguish individual Christians from their churches. Pace, Sam Webster, I also think we should distinguish Jesus as he might have been from the Jesus that the author of the book of Revelations made up out of his own paranoia centuries later. (So far as I learned at the U of Chicago, the Jesus that appears in the Gospels is probably a composit figure, created by a community telling stories to itself for generations before they were finally edited into the New Testament.)

    The 10% of Unitarian Universalists who are Xian identified are especially likely to follow the religion OF Jesus rather than the religion about Jesus. That’s why they can be politely curious about the 20-30% of UUs who identify with Earth-Centered Spirituality, not to mention the UUBuddhists, and Humanists. (UU Christians only accept those parts of Xy they find worthy; they don’t believe in the Divinity of Jesus and don’t believe in other aspects of the Nicene creed, or they would join liberal Protestant churches.)

    If Christians want to make peace with Pagans, we don’t need you to adhere to Pagan practices or ideas.

    REPARATIVE JUSTICE IS IN ORDER.

    90% of Unitarian Universalists were raised in some other (usually Christian) religion. MANY of them were SPIRITUAL ABUSED in the name of Christianity or otherwise within a Christian religious context which aggravated the abuse. SPIRITUAL ABUSE includes terrorizing children with fear of God’s Hellfire and the Devil, teaching children that they can commit a mortal sin by thought alone, teaching children that they are evil because they are angry, sad, or questioning dogmas. It’s bad enough that clergy and Sunday School teachers do this to adults! A child does not have the psychological independence to resist this terrorism without a lot of support. The UUs once had an adult curriculum for folks with the “Baptist Bends,” called “The Haunting Church.” My only problem with the course was that it was far, far too brief.

    ANYONE who was subjected to that kind of abuse has a right and a need to be angry about it.

    IIn this, as in so many things, Pagans are similar to UUs. Many converts to Paganism have told me how abuse had prevented them from being able to pray for many years, until they discovered the Goddess. The (longer) Homeric Hymn to Demeter is a transformational scripture for them!

    REPARATIVE JUSTICE means that those who claim the mantle of Jesus listen respectfully, seek to understand, and then go to your own communities and draw them into reflecting on the effects this abuse is having on your own children! Because if the Christians don’t, a percentage of those children will become UUs, Pagans, or just spiritually numb.

    There are many people for whom Christianity means seeking to love God and their neighbor and not worrying about the other stuff until they get perfect at that. They aren’t a problem. But those who make their living wearing the mantle of the Christian church have a moral responsibility to reduce the harm your institutions have done profitably for centuries.

    Reparative Justice demands that Pagans and Witches and Animists, etc. no longer be used as “people it’s safe to hate and despise. Reparative Justice means acknowledging the crimes committed by your Church against our people. You can’t undo what your church did, but you can set the record strait in the name of Truthfulness.

    I’ll grant you that the Roman Empire should never have executed the 300 or so martyrs recorded in Christian history. Will you in turn learn about the Bloody Verdict? Will you acknowledge and mourn the mass slaughters by “St. Olaf” the King who slaughtered all who followed the Old Religion? Will you petition your institutions to pay reparations to the still living Native American children who were forced into to deracinating, usually religious, boarding schools, where they were taught to hate and despise their own elders?

    I’ve known many Christian clergy. Some of these Methodist ministers, Jesuits, and nuns helped me be a better Pagan and a better Priestess. They recognized my sincerity, asked questions which helped me clarify my own theology, loaned me books I would never have found on my own, and gave me resources and encouragement.

    They probably saw all that as practicing Christian love. BUT they also understood, as I hope my Christian readers do, that as those who shared the PRIVILEGE of Christian clergy, they also shared an institutional responsibility to understand, to acknowledge the truth about the Church’s sins against our people, to critique the ignorant claims about supremacism, and to teach their own to be more just to us going forward.

    Then you’ll not only have our respect, you’ll also be better Christians.

  • http://www.yggdrablog.org Elizabeth Jane Salix

    Hailsa John,
    This was a very interesting essay, thank you for writing it.
    While I don’t necessarily agree with everything in it, it would be pointless to devolve into name-calling and finger-pointing. I, like many Heathens and other Pagans, have had negative personal experiences with Christianity, and the various organizations thereof, that have coloured my perception of the people as a whole. However, my dealings with Christians who seem to feel the way you do have been helping me to overcome my life-long prejudice.
    Regardless of the numerous petty disagreements between our people, I would like to thank you for reaching out to us in friendship.

    In Frith,
    -E. Salix, Ásatruar

  • Kalimat Haqiqia

    Rev. Moorehead,

    To begin with, I’ll say to each his own. If you and others feel led to seek some kind of dialogue between Christians and Pagans and you believe that it will result in a better world, by all means go where you are led. That said, I have to say that this seems to me to be a fruitless exercise.

    If there was a genuine threat of religious violence between Christians and Pagans, then I would agree that there would be value to establishing a “trustworthy rivalry.” But that isn’t the case. That terminology sounds to me suspiciously Cold War-esque, suggesting perhaps that we need a to forestall the two sides from destroying each other in a holy war. We all live in pluralistic societies and to that end, to function, we must be tolerant of those whose views differ from ours. And by and large, that is the case between Pagans and Christians. We inhabit separate spiritual spheres and operate peacefully in our interactions. We are both free to hold our own religious services and carry out the teachings of our faith.

    No doubt, as you say, we share a common humanity and abide in the idea that everyone is free to follow his or her conscience in matters of faith. In the that spirit, it necessarily follows that we come to different conclusions–there is an “us” and a “them.” This isn’t something that we should be afraid of nor something we should try to bridge. Both Pagans and Christians make claims to have some truth (or at least something approaching the truth), otherwise they wouldn’t be much of religions at all. Those claims to truth are incompatible and irreconcilable; while, I don’t doubt that there is some overlap, we are distinct.

    As a Christian, I can best speak to my own religious experience and say that this presents a certain chasm that ought to remain. We have to try to live out Christ’s teachings in our life, regardless of what the rest of the world thinks. Certainly, our aim shouldn’t be to hurt and offend those who don’t share our beliefs, and Christians should be constantly reminded of Christ’s command to love your neighbor as yourself. Love for people does not, however, entail allowing the rest of the world to impede our Christian mission. I imagine that you won’t agree, but this kind of interreligious dialogue takes the risk of looking like an endorsement of a faith not our own. Ecumenism is valuable within the church because it brings fellow Christians closer together and fosters greater fellowship. But that’s not institutionally possible (nor desirable) between Paganism and Christianity, and I think most everyone would agree.

    We ought to remain, more or less as we are, two (for the sake of simplicity, ignoring internal divisions) independent autonomous groups who interact peaceably and with love for one another. At least from my perspective, the best that Christians can do is speak among themselves about the need to show others Christian love. That includes witnessing and attempts at conversion, which seems to be a sticking point among many of the Pagan commentors. This is a fundamental aspect of our faith, on which we cannot compromise our allow non-Christians to tell us what our boundaries will be. We want people to accept Christ’s gift of eternal life! If Christians act that out in such a way that alienates and hardens hearts rather than drawing people close then clearly we have to find better ways of communicating. Beyond that, I really fail to see what need there is to establish a ‘trustworthy rivalry,’ how that derives from our desire to glorify God or honor his teachings for how to live our lives. I might well be wrong on some of this, so I’m more than happy to hear any good faith counterpoints to what I’ve written.

  • http://yaburrow.googlepages.com yvonne

    I think it is important for people of different religions to understand each other, especially when there is a long history of persecution, but I do not like it when other religions (and it’s not only the Christians) come to the interfaith table with a sales-pitch for their religion.

    That said, one tenet of interfaith dialogue is that each must come to the table with an openness to the other person’s point of view, but definitely must not seek to convert the other.

    I also think it is important to distinguish between different flavours of Christianity – most progressive and liberal Christians would not be interested in converting Pagans. Some time ago, I wrote a blogpost attempting to distinguish between the different flavours: http://stroppyrabbit.blogspot.co.uk/2009/02/christians-spotters-guide.html

    I also think it is important to distinguish between dialogue, evangelization and proselytizing. There is a difference. Dialogue is describing your religion matter-of-factly, and stating what you like about it. Evangelizing is telling people that you think they would like your religion, or what you perceive your particular “good news” to be. Proselytizing is telling them that they will go to hell if they do not accept your beliefs. Here’s another blogpost about the differences: http://stroppyrabbit.blogspot.co.uk/2008/10/spot-difference.html

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  • SphericalAddy

    I don’t think it is about slamming…but about speaking out about abusive systems. I don’t particularly mind Christianity’s doctrine–each to their own–but I do mind the dominant cultural group making sure that I don’t get a job. My criticism is not about their doctrine but about their hypocrisy. If you are a Christian, you should not be destroying the life of a pagan. After 10 or 11 similar experiences you do start to wonder what is wrong with the system….
    And certain pagan groups have speaking the truth about suffering or abuse as their ethic, so do they violate their ethic in order to be tolerant?

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