Guest Post: Hunt for Charity and Sound Arguments, Not Witches

Guest Post: Hunt for Charity and Sound Arguments, Not Witches May 3, 2012

[The following is a guest post from Paul Louis Metzger and John W. Morehead. Paul Louis Metzger, Ph.D. is Professor of Christian Theology and Theology of Culture at Multnomah Biblical Seminary/Multnomah University; Charter Member, Evangelical Chapter of the Foundation for Religious Diplomacy. John W. Morehead is Director, Western Institute for Intercultural Studies; Director, Evangelical Chapter of the Foundation for Religious Diplomacy.]

Rob Kerby, Senior Editor at beliefnet, wrote a recent article titled “What can the Third World teach us about witchcraft?.” This has resulted in the concern of and critique by Pagans, but it should also interest those in other religious communities. We are practicing Evangelical Christians, and we are very interested in what Christians and Pagans have to say about one another in hopes of light being shed on our respective spiritual pathways. Unfortunately, misunderstanding, misrepresentation, and hostility have been characteristic traits of our exchanges throughout history. In our minds, Kerby’s article only intensified this problem.

After reading the Kerby article, we are left wondering what the piece teaches us about witchcraft. While we did not necessarily learn anything about witchcraft from his essay, we did learn that he believes witchcraft in all its forms does great damage to civilization in the “Third World” and elsewhere, and that strong measures should be taken to eradicate it from the West. In addition to other problematic features, we were deeply concerned that Kerby claims that witchcraft is a capital offense in Saudi Arabia, punishable by beheading. Why did he make this claim? Is this something the “Third World” can teach us about witchcraft, or is this one of many sensational claims by Kerby?

Those in Pagan circles have responded strongly to the piece, and with good reason. Kerby provides no solid substantiation for his claims, demonstrates a lack of familiarity with the spiritual practices and beliefs he critiques, and as a result, the piece creates fear and suspicion of witchcraft (and broader Paganism as well). While Christians have often accused Paganism of superstition, the irony is that the Christian community has often approached Paganism superstitiously. Kerby’s piece only adds to the superstition and suspicion, made worse by the stereotypes and fears that often underlie such representations.

What we learned from reading Kerby’s essay and the responses to it from Pagans is that we have a long way to go in pursuit of charity and sound argumentation in our post-Christendom and pluralistic public square. We are charter members of the Evangelical Chapter of the Foundation for Religious Diplomacy. Our chapter aims to develop interreligious relationships and conversations in civility and without compromise with those of other religious and spiritual traditions. Our work in the chapter represents a new movement in Evangelicalism. The chapter seeks accuracy and fairness in understanding, and embodies a relational and dialogical approach, while addressing substantial differences in practice and belief between various religious and spiritual communities. Two examples of this approach are the books Beyond the Burning Times: A Pagan and Christian in Dialogue (written by Philip Johnson and Gus diZerega, and edited by John Morehead; published by Lion, UK, April 2009), and Connecting Christ: How to Discuss Jesus in a World of Diverse Paths (Paul Louis Metzger; Thomas Nelson, May 2012—this work includes an article on Paganism and a response by Gus diZerega). We have been very grateful for our charitable and constructive engagements in reasoned argumentation with Dr. diZerega (who mentioned our exchanges in his beliefnet post on Kerby’s article). We welcome other opportunities for such collaboration. We also encourage Evangelicals to get involved in our FRD chapter and for Pagans to form their own FRD chapter so as to have a place at the table with other religions and spiritual paths. Over time, such collaboration may help mitigate against depictions like Kerby’s.

In our post-Christendom, pluralistic public square, Christians must learn to show respect for other belief and praxis systems by substantiating our claims and criticisms and arguing for the cogency of our own convictions on level ground also occupied by others. We must also seek to demonstrate that our Christian convictions promote the common good and pursue conversations with others from varying viewpoints who would do the same. One person self-identified as “unap” wrote in a comment posted in response to the Kerby article: “Crimes against humanity – death, torture, sacrifice, grave robbing and mutilation – are crimes pretty much everywhere. They need no special pleading for more punishment because you think those crimes are belief based.” Solid argument on level ground in civility.

We encourage both Evangelicals and Pagans to enter into sustained dialogue, with the former through our chapter, and the latter through the formation of a FRD chapter. The only way we will move beyond witch hunts and superstition is if we enter into public square discourse with level heads in search of charity and sound arguments.

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128 responses to “Guest Post: Hunt for Charity and Sound Arguments, Not Witches”

  1. Is anyone aware of anyone working to begin a Pagan chapter at the Foundation for Religious Diversity mentioned in the article?

  2. Thanks for a thoughtful essay, gentlemen. I’m sure you’ll find that most of us Pagans are quite willing to exchange ideas with Christians *if* you are willing to stop trying to convert us to your religion, and will  instead work with us (and those of other religions as well) towards creating a shared moral system that can be used as a practical basis for real-world work. Sadly, most (perhaps nearly all!) of us have had experiences of being treated very badly by Christians, so we find it hard to let down our defenses even with those who are making a truly good-faith effort at respectful dialog. Unfortunately, even recent efforts by evangelical Christians to get their facts straight regarding Pagan beliefs and practices have been entered into with the sole purpose of finding better tactics for converting us. If you can set that aside *completely* we can work together, but given the centrality of the “Great Commission” to your belief system, I’m not sure how possible that is. What do you think?

  3. I think it’s hypocritical to ask one faith group to accept us while asking them to give up a tenant of their faith as a precondition to our acceptance of them. 

  4. I appreciate that the FRD’s description of a chapter indicates that they are “comprised of respected individuals from a particular religious or philosophical tradition who promote and engage in a unique form of dialogue with those from other religions or belief systems” (from their website). 

    They seem fairly cognizant that not all religious groups will have the same definition for clergy persons or leaders and aren’t seeking to exclude one group or another simply because their officiants or leaders aren’t “classically trained,” whatever that means.

  5.  It depends on how the Commission is interpreted. If it’s merely “tell all the world” the basic tenants of Christian faith – I don’t see that has a problem. On the otherhand if the Commission is interpreted as “pester all the world until they submit to our ideology.” Then, we’ve got a problem.

  6. The ball is in your court, you guys are the ones with the numbers and power to have a major impact on Christian and Pagan dialogue.

  7.  I have had discussions with Mike Stygal, Gus diZerega and a few others about this possibility. It has also been mentioned to Charles Randall Paul, founder and president of FRD.

  8. Why is it that bloggers in general have NOT mentioned the ’30 days of advocacy against witch-hunts’ campaign initiated by South African Witches in 2007/8 ? Is what we Witches are doing “in the Third World” to bring an end to barbarically cruel witch-hunts and rampant accusations of witchcraft, NOT newsworthy in relation to the story under scrutiny? Educate yourselves on exactly WHAT Third World Witches have to say on the subject. Anything less is pure speculation and hype!

     ’30 days of advocacy against witch-hunts’

  9.  This is an important point for dialogue, Nicole. As the FRD website states, we want to create a forum whereby people from a variety of different, and often contradictory religious systems can discuss their praxis and belief without compromise and in civility. This means being true to a given belief system. Many, including Christianity, have evangelism as a part of their identity. But on the other side, in my view evangelism would only be a valid part of a dialogue to the extent that the dialogue partners are open to it. Of course, blog comments are not the best place for discussion of such in-depth and important topics, and I am hoping we can do so in better forums, including a possible FRD chapter for paganism. But I’m glad we could at least raise the issue here for initial thoughts.

  10.  To a large extent you are right, Mia. And as our guest post indicates, there is a growing movement within evangelical Christianity willing to do so. But at the same time, we need pagans willing to work with us, and who see the benefit of being part of formal dialogue, if for no other reasons than to provide reliable representations of paganism, as well as working for peacemaking.

  11. I would be very interested in exploring what an FRD chapter for Paganism might look like.  There’s a lot of tension within the Pagan community about what our leaders look like and how they are expected to comport themselves.  Plus, considering the theological differences between many Pagan traditions and between those who follow one and those who do not, there’s often a lot of intrafaith work to be performed.  Regardless, this seems like a worthy thing to pursue.

  12. Which Christian denominations have officially amended their theological foundations to recognize the possibility of spiritual truth outside of their own sect? And when did this seismic theological change take place? Such a change in perspective would, obviously, involve a renunciation of nearly the entire Old Testament, almost as much of the New Testament, the Nicene Creed, the writings of Luther and Calvin, etc.

  13. It’s a legitimate problem, yes, but I think it’s the core of our difficulties. For me, any attempt at *genuinely respectful* dialog simply can’t happen unless all parties are willing to accept that the others’ religions are valid, worthwhile, and do not need to be changed (which goes far beyond acknowledging one’s legal right to practice whatever religion one chooses)–otherwise you’re working from a position of superiority and condescension, which is the opposite of real respect. I’m very glad to exchange thoughts and ideas about whatever problems we all care about if it’s done with the clear intention of better understanding one another so that we can work together, rather than with the intention of trying to convince someone that their religion needs to be changed. I’d like to think this is possible with Christians, but you’re right that for people working from an evangelical and/or fundamentalist perspective, this might mean having to jettison a core theological principle, which might ultimately make the kind of dialog I wish we could have impossible.

  14. It’s been my experience that Christians who don’t take the Bible literally (and as a result have much more liberal theologies) are often quite open to learning from those of us who practice different religions. When that’s the case, we can easily return the favor. It’s the difference between “I practice this religion because it’s the one I like best, but the others are interesting and worth learning about” and “I practice this religion because it’s the only one that’s true, and therefore I really don’t have any choice, and there’s nothing I can learn from any of the others because they’re all wrong.”

  15. This goes far beyond the issue of “literal” interpretations of the Bible, which is a rather modern (Protestant) concept. To my knowledge every major (and nearly every minor) Christian denomination explicitly rejects anything that even approaches the notion of accepting the validity of non-Christian religions. Most Christian denominations only just barely accept each other, and that has happened only in the last half century or so (about 3% of the history of Christianity).

  16. I’m sorry, I don’t mean to start a fight on the Internet and I don’t mean to respond to a statement with a question, but I’m having trouble with something in your words that I perceive as a double standard.

    You seem to be asking Christians, especially Evangelicals, to give up a part of their faith.  This implies, as I see it, that you don’t find this part of their faith to valid and/or worthwhile and you’re seeking to change it.  Isn’t that what you’re asking them not to do to us?

    We always talk about how much we’re willing to accept others as they are and not seek to change them, but here we are asking others to change for us because they’re philosophy doesn’t fit with ours.  Would you ask an atheist to believe in gods before working with them?  Would you seek to explain to a Zoroastrian that the dual, prime forces of their faith are somehow less real than the more colorful personalities of our own?

  17. This is an important distinction that is often missed by many. Related to this is the idea of identity theft in regards to those who feel conversion would betray personal and national identity. We need to be sympathetic to such concerns.

    Missionary-minded religions like Christianity should be encouraged to be true to their tradition, which includes sharing and inviting others to their pathway when such sharing is welcomed. But proselytizing and forced conversion is inappropriate. Christians and those of other religious pathways need to consider this distinction, and it would make for an important dialogue topic, perhaps the focus of a future guest commentary.

  18. As a Pagan who work has worked with Christians (and Buddhists, Jews, Hindus, Muslims, atheists…) on peace and social justice issues for many years, I can say that there is much common ground to be found, and many pathways to respect. 

    “The only way we will move beyond witch hunts and superstition is if we enter into public square discourse with level heads in search of charity and sound arguments.” 

    Both curiosity and good faith help immensely with this process. I’ve found that we aren’t just setting aside our differences to work together, but mutually enriching each other in the spirit of service.

    Thanks for writing this piece. And Jason, thank you as always for your contributions to larger dialogue.

  19. “While Christians have often accused Paganism of superstition, the irony
    is that the Christian community has often approached Paganism

    Oh, yes!  This!

    While I am an outsider to Christianity, it seems to me that the tendency to regard Pagan religions (and especially Wicca) with a superstitious dread is right up there with the tendency to use the Bible and the cross as symbols of loyalty to tribe (presumably the tribe “Christendom”) as challenges to a serious, spiritually rooted practice of Christian religion in our time.

    I’m not at all trying to say Pagans do not face similar challenges to keeping our own practices rooted in Spirit.  In fact, I probably spend more virtual ink on that subject than any other these days.

    But since you mention it?  Yeah, this is a problem.  I’m glad–for your sakes as well as ours–that some of you in the Christian world see it and are working to address it.  Thanks for this note of sanity and civility in a dialog that too often resembles a barfight between fans of rival sports teams.

  20. Gus would be an excellent choice for such a group, and his recommendations would be solid, too.  Good thoughts.

  21.  I do not need to do anything other than live my life out as a member of society to provide a reliable representation of paganism. I am publicly pagan, if people choose to ignore me as a representation in favor of more devious-looking individuals that better fulfill a bias, that is out of my power.

    Pagans are already very accessible for inquiries or for representation. We have a ton of blogs, facebook pages, and websites with contact information, easily found via google or other search engines. We are not the impenetrable ones, or the ones blocking the peacemaking process. Many of us just want to be left alone in peace, but parts of society won’t let them.

    Personally, my biggest problem is discerning when someone is genuinely interested vs just want to sneak convert me or establish Christianity’s superiority over my beliefs. I am not alone in that feeling either.

    So the ball is still in your court, because you still need to show us that you’re not actually trying to convert us by talking to us. If that is too much a tenet of your faith that it’s impossible to avoid doing, as many Christians claim it is, then I fear dialogue will not be happening. I will need evidence that the dog is accepting of me before I stick my hand in its cage to feed it.

  22. As an aside: remember to capitalize the P in Pagan.  I realize we are not 100% consistent in this practice ourselves, and the debate goes on within our own community as to whether or not to capitalize the initial letter in the word when it refers to P/pagans from the pre-Christian era.

    However, one important way of reflecting mutual respect is to use the language and terminology of the religious group being addressed.  When speaking of that form of Paganism which can be said to be represented, it would be better to accord us our proper noun…

    I don’t mean to be a language cop, but this one matters to a lot of us.

  23. This seems to be lofty goal , but may be attainable . As Nicole here said ………as long as the Evangelicals involved are willing to suspend trying to  convert us , meaningful dialog can occur .Even tho converting others is a main tenant of their faith , we can’t talk to them unless they do suspend that practice. We are willing to talk and exchange ideas , if they are truely serious about this . I would even be interested in jioning a pagan FRD chapter , if one is formed . If this happens please post the joining info here .    Kilm

  24.  The atheist lack of a belief in gods does not butt into other people’s spaces or require disrespecting the person itself. The desire to convert does. 

    No one is asking them to give up that aspect of their faith. They can keep it if they want. But the cost is a lack of true dialogue. If they want to talk to us, then they’re going to have to actually listen with an open mind instead of trying to figure out how to recruit us. That means accepting the fact that not everyone wants to be Christian, which they don’t seem to want to do.

  25.  I think your project is a very worthy one and I wish it lots of success.  I am just too busy right now to get much involved with another organization.  I am spread too thin as it is.  But I look forward to the day when your views are the mainstream views of Evangelical Christianity.

  26. I am not assuming that it “should be changed”, I am responding to the implicit claim that it has already changed, at least for some Christians. I am simply asking who these Christians are, and when they changed. It’s a very simple question. If there is some difficulty in providing an equally simple answer, then that tells us a great deal.

  27. No apology necessary, it’s a tough issue. I’m not trying to turn Christians into non-Christians (much less into Pagans), but rather to encourage them to move past a *practice* that is a barrier to respectful dialog. Putting an end to pressuring people to convert to their religion doesn’t mean that *they* have to change their own *beliefs* about God or Jesus or anything else. It would, ideally, be another step forward from them believing that we are all inherently Satanic and sacrifice cats or whatever: “oh, okay, you don’t really do that? You’re actually nice and helpful people with interesting ideas? Maybe then it’s ok if you maintain your religious beliefs and practices and we maintain ours. So, what do we do now about trying to get along with each other and maybe doing some good work together?”

  28.  How then do you maintain a relationship with someone who says “Ok, I’ve heard you and I do understand your religion, but I don’t like it and I’m going to keep mine”?

  29. I guess I just feel like we’re asking others to change to suit us which is the same as others ask of us.  Our differences are not so different, in my perception.

  30. Okay, I think I’m missing something.  Are you claiming that Christian orthodoxy must change before the righteous actions of individual Christians can be taken at face value? 

  31.  Another thought: part of the problem here might be that I’m working from a more liberal definition of “Christian.” I don’t think that putting an end to unwelcome proselytizing makes one any less Christian, so in my view I’m not asking anyone to give up their religion at all in order to be more respectful of mine.  Obviously I’m working from an outsider’s perspective here, but goodness knows that there are millions of people out there who have found ways to be respectful of difference without leaving their churches.

  32. As a Witch married to a Catholic, I have a fairly liberal interpretation of Christianity, too! 

    I guess I see that the practices you seek to end stem from the beliefs held by the practitioners.  Asking them to cease their practices, then, is the same as asking them to either change their beliefs or act in opposition to them in some way.  Both, for me, seem to be problematic if we, in turn, seek acceptance for our beliefs and practice from others. 

    Instead, I think we need to develop a respectful language when dealing with those who proselytize.  When I moved into a new neighborhood in Illinois, some of the first friends I made were Mormon missionaries.  They came by the house, as they do, and I explained (patiently and on a few occasions) that I wasn’t going to convert, but that I was very interested in learning more about the Church of Latter Day Saints.  Eventually, our conversations shifted from proselytization to one of education as we all learned from each other. This is the sort of relationship we should seek to create — one of mutual respect regardless of mutual agreement.

  33. I know I’m poking at beehives here, but what does it matter if someone else seeks to convert us?  I’m honestly not seeing why it’s such a big thing, and I’m not just trying to troll the thread here (though I fear that may be what I’m doing none the less). 

    Interfaith work is something that I hold dearly important and that I’ve been doing for the last few years in Illinois, and it makes me question myself and my deeply held feelings when these sorts of intrafaith disagreements occur.

  34. Paul Louis Metzger and John W. Morehead what breath of fresh air to hear from you. I know people like you are out there in the Christian community but they are rarely presented  to the public in a media in search of sensation. Would that people like you be given more attention because I think they would inspire others within the Christian community that must get as scared, as some of us Pagans do, when they hear only of the extreme end of the Christian community.

  35. I am not talking about one single rigid abstract Christian “orthodoxy”. I am talking Christianity as it actually exists in real world today in the 21st century. I am talking about the Christian sects that 95+% of all Christians belong to: Roman Catholicism, Eastern Orthodoxy, Mainline Protestantism, and Evangelical Protestantism (inclusive of LDS, Jehovah Witnesses, Seventh Day Adventists). I am looking for some official statement that has some actual authority behind it. If no Christian sect has ever adopted any such statement, why is that? If they have, where is it and when was it adopted and by who? If we go back to the early 20th century it is a simple matter to document the monolithically intolerant nature of Christianity as a whole, including especially a great deal of intolerance toward each other. If this has somehow changed, when did it change? If this has not changed, then let us be honest about it.

  36. (buzz buzz….) 🙂

    “but what does it matter if someone else seeks to convert us?”

    Wow…that’s so painfully obvious to me that I don’t even know how to begin to articulate it. Would someone else care to jump in at this point?

  37. John, I for one am glad to hear from you and hope that you will show up more often. It is impossible to solve problems between groups that don’t talk with each other. Not all Pagans, just as not all Christians, are ready for this, but we that are need to get started if the day of understanding between relgions is to ever happen. What we actually do is far more important than anything we may say, deeds count far more than sweet words. 

    You are right in that it can only happen if Pagans are willing to step up to the plate as well as Christian, it cannot be done from either side. I also do a  small E-zine and I will see if I can get intouch with you so that perhaps I can provide another small forum for you to get you ideas out to a variety of communites in th Heathen/Pagan communities. I believe that we have a link to you at the top of this guest post.

  38. It means that the other party is not engaged in an equal conversation with us. I say what I mean; the other says what will most likely convert me.

  39. Back when Unitarians were Christians, they tried something like this. One thing led to another and they were no longer regarded as Christian by other Christians.

  40. Paul and John I daresay that many of us have had hassles from Christians about being Pagan and proud of it. I, because of a lifelong involvement with the Unitarian Universalist Association, have had the less wide experience of getting the same attitude from Humanists as well. For quite a while, when UU Paganism was getting started and CUUPS was on everyone’s lips.

    It did not make it impossible for me to deal with individual Humanists — even, on occcasion, overtly bigoted (Paganophobic) Humanist individuals. It just made it more difficult. UU Pagans persevered and now that kind of crap is behind us.

    Of course, both sides had a shared institutional bond — UUism. Perhaps FRD can provide an institutional bond for its transactions, by providing standards for them.

  41. Actually, there is very little room for interpretation when it comes to the Great Commission:

    “Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. Then Jesus came to them and said, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.'”
    [Matthew 28:16-20]

    The Great Commission is alive and well. Every major (and nearly every minor) Christian sect is actively involved in “missionary” work, which has the clearly stated purpose of eradicating all non-Christian religions from the face of the earth. Christian missionaries around the world are working very hard to extirpate what is left of Native American spiritual traditions and African Traditional Religion. They are also hard at work trying to undermine, and eventually destroy, Hinduism, Buddhism, Taoism, etc. It is reasonable to want to know where Christians who claim to be our friends stand on the issue of the continued Christian efforts toward spiritual world domination.

  42. Seriously? It means that person is not respecting me as an individual with my own choices and ideas, or bothering to step outside of their box.

  43.  It’s about respect and boundaries. They can believe whatever they want. They don’t, however, have the right to force their beliefs on anyone else. What do you do when a religion teaches that you must do exactly that in order to be a good Chrisitan soldier? They are trained and conditioned that we are evil, must be converted or killed, and that to practice that faith, you must constantly convert everyone you meet to the same faith. This is built in prejudice, demonizing of people with other beliefs than your own, and creates an atmosphere of conversation only being sneaky ways to convert people. That’s not hearing someone. That’s looking for more points so that you can argue against them and still fulfill your mission to convert. This is not respectful of free will, of our freedom to choose, of our unique and diverse paths, and of any personal respect or boundaries.

    I don’t understand how this is so hard to recognize.  Most of us know when we’re wasting our breath and our time with closed minded people only looking for openings for conversion. There is no point in dialogue if their mind if already made up, they are not sincerely interested in our perspective, and they are only in dialogue because they have an agenda. Who wants to have a conversation like this with a salesman? They are only interested in their end game, not in opening their mind or allowing other to be left alone in peace.

    I think the real issue is with any fundamentalist religion that teaches as it’s tenants of faith to convert others, and kill anyone else with a different belief. This in not an environment for dialogue. This is why the witch hunts are back. This fuels every fundamentalist religion. Other people are demonized so they don’t have to feel guilty for committing torture and murder. “Though shall not suffer a witch to live”. During the Inquisition, the Church declared that women don’t have SOULS, making it a non-crime to torture and murder them. No soul, no guilt. Many fundamentalist religions refer to others as dogs, animals, monsters and what not, deserving of murder. They actually preach that it causes us SUFFERING to even allow us to LIVE.

    How is this a true environment for real dialogue?

    We leave you guys alone in peace. We don’t persecute, hunt, torture, kill, fire, run out of town, make death threats, attack your children in schools, or take custody of them because you believe in something different than us.

    If you want to claim that we are asking you to abandon a tenant of your faith in order to have dialogue with us, which violates your right to believe, than perhaps it’s time to change what that faith believes.

    The “rule of thumb” phrase comes from an actual US law that allows men to beat their wives with a stick, so long as it’s not wider in circumference than their thumb. Women’s suffrage finally changed that belief.

    It used to be a held belief that blacks were animals and it was ok to treat them as property, to not allow them to eat in a restaurant with whites, or to ride a bus and take a seat. The Civil Right movement changed that.

    Children used to be used for sweat shop labor. There was a movement that made that illegal.

    Maybe it’s time to have a movement to stop persecution, hatred and violence against person’s of other faiths. We’ve now covered women, children, minorities of race, and Jews. Maybe it’s now time to have another one to make change about persecution of pagans and witches, too.

    FYI- There’s no way the Anti-Defamation League would put up with this persecution of their people. It’s time we do the same for our community.

  44.  Nicole, your responses are awesome. I take my hat off to you that you can even have this conversation and maintain a sense of diplomacy. My response below speaks to the question post above.

  45. @ David

    You’re right, what I meant by my atheist comparison is that it does not encourage any action on part of the atheist. If they do it, that’s on them as individuals, not their group’s dogma.

    But numerous Christian sects took the “go forth and spread the word” idea that Jesus spoke of and turn it into “go forth and convert” for the past 1700 years.  It became dogma, not just individual choice. My family is RC and I was raised as such, so I am familiar with the inside views.

    “Our differences are not so different, in my perception”

    Some differences are very different. Try nearly a billion people vs maybe some hundred thousands. We’re a minority group simply asking the zealous members of that  majority to chill out and let us be for once, in contrast to the majority asking us to drop our entire religions and worldviews for theirs. That is what conversion is.

    Changing to suit others is what numerous pagans have done for years. I don’t do or talk about anything related to paganism for the most part because my friends and family are mostly Christians. I had to modify and even silence myself for them, particularly in public, while they haven’t changed anything of themselves for me.  I’ve accepted it because I want to maintain my relationships with people I care about, but it’s still one-sided because of the nature of their beliefs.

    I’m going to end the conversation now before I get into the emotional side of things. Feel free to reply, but it won’t change my experiences or my opinions, and I will not be responding back.

  46. David,

    The Evangelicals who wrote the article are calling for respectful dialogue.  Respectful dialogue is, to some extent, a violation of such passages as Rev. 3:16 and the synoptic passages of Mt. 10:-14 and Lk. 10:11.

    This indicates, to me, that there are two possible ways that these two gentlemen wish to proceed; either
    1.) For the purposes of civil argument, but not in any way renouncing their beliefs, they will suspend the judgmental beliefs such as in the above passages for discussing matters among persons of differing creeds; or

    2.) The writers call for a civil dialogue of “acceptance” – an acceptance which means that all other faiths must fall below their faith due to such Biblical passages.  This would be a disingenuous call for dialogue indeed.

    As Jason accepted their post for publication, I choose to believe number 1.  However, it is perfectly possible that 2.) is what is really intended here.

    -John Deltuvia

    Member, SpiralHeart Reclaiming Community

    Former lay evangelist, Our Lady Queen of Apostles Praesidium, Legion of Mary (RCC)

  47. Apuleius, I don’t argue with most of this. Thank you for laying it our so bluntly. But, confronted with “Christians who claim to be our friends,” doesn’t make more sense to negoatiate something to get that moving, like an FRD rule against proselytizing on FRD time, than to demand an immediate position on a topic that might draw a great deal of discussion within FRD?

  48. I don’t seem to be able to reply to people at this level so I’ll do the best I can here.

    “I say what I mean; the other says what will most likely convert me.”

    How is that not saying what they mean?  If someone approaches me and initiates a conversation with the open intent at converting me and there is no hidden agenda, I can respond respectfully and forcefully to the point that I’m not interested in converting.  They can then either leave, continue to press their case (in which case I leave), or we can move past that point and seek shared values.

    I agree with you that if someone is simply talking AT me rather than talking TO me, then there’s no point in continuing a conversation with them. 

    You said, “Most of us know when we’re wasting our breath and our time with closed minded people only looking for openings for conversion.” and I think you’re 100% correct.  However, I’m advocating that we still work with the other (likely larger) group of Christians (and non-Christians) who are approaching us with open minds and are looking for open, respectful, educational dialog.  If, during that dialog, I’m on the receiving end of Bible passages and/or some overt discussions of conversion and Mission work, then I have the power right to decline politely. 

    I think it’s naive of us to think that our minority and outsider voice is somehow going to change the larger Christian culture of the USA and of the world.  That’s just not going to happen.  But what can happen is that we can make the choice to work with others with whom we disagree — in spite of or because of those disagreements — so that they can learn abut us and see that we’re not the demons that they think we are.  That is the only avenue toward a mutually respectful relationship that I’ve ever found. If we wait to work with others until they change their deeply held religious beliefs and practices, we’re going to be waiting a very, very long time. 

    Or, perhaps, just perhaps, if we take the first step toward them without sacrificing our beliefs or trying to validate them to the patronizing ideals of others, we can then help them to change in ways that they may never be prepared to do on their own.

  49. It hasn’t changed and it won’t until an effort of the faithful work to change it from within and not from without. 

    But, I know that we can reach that day more quickly by working with people who are willing to work with us. 

  50. I suppose that this would be as good a place as any to mention, once again, the principles set out in Prof. Leonard Swidler’s Dialogue Decalogue. They appear, IMO, to be a good starting point for the type of Pagan/Christian dialogue that can be profitable to both parties while not requiring that either one set aside any of the principles of their own religion.

    Having said that, I believe that Mr. Morehead has some doubts about the applicability of this model to dialogue between Pagans and Christians. I presume that one reason for this is that a fairly large percentage of the current Pagan community consists of people who were formerly Christian and who found that religioni unsatisfactory, but I could be wrong. I, myself, would not see that as a problem, but I perhaps tend to be overly optimistic regarding interfaith relations.

  51.  There are many ways to seek to convert others to Christianity. The most eloquent and the most simple, in my experience of Christians, is to live one’s life as effective witness for their God and their Christ. Do so well enough, and others will say “I envy him his serenity, how do I achieve that?”

    I have no problem with Christians who hope in their hearts that I’ll come around, it’s just the ones who won’t stop talking about it that bother me.

  52. I honestly have no desire to enter into a religious “dialogue” with Christians, especially Evangelical ones.  They have an agenda by definition, and it’s not mine.  I just want them to leave me alone, and I will return the favor. 

  53. You asked who these Christians are. Here is one example of a fairly large denomination (United Church of Canada) that has “already changed”: Click on  “Multi-faith relations.” At least one relevant statement reads ”
    For Christians, Jesus is the way we know God. Our understanding is nonetheless limited by human imagination. God is greater still and works in our world by a mysterious Spirit that knows no distinction at the doorway of a Christian chapel; Buddhist, Hindu, or Sikh temple; Aboriginal sweat lodge, Muslim mosque, or Jewish synagogue.”
    Clearly, not all Christians are this open. But I know quite a few people in the United Church, and this kind of language is pretty par for the course. Does this answer your objection that there are none?

  54. I was looking for one thing as I started reading this piece, and I didn’t get it– an acknowledgement that power is not equal between us.  I can mouth pretty words at you all day in a search for “mutual understanding and tolerance”, but it’s not going to amount to much if no one admits the existence of the elephant in the living room. The one that’s “you have immense and disproportionate sociopolitical power, power that is being used to discriminate, oppress, and erase my gender, my sexual orientation, and my religion, and I’m terrified of it”.

    I mean, there can be dialogue without admitting that, but it’s not going to be very honest. For justice to happen, privilege has to admit it exists.

  55.  Easily; no one has to like any religion besides one’s own.  Liking it isn’t really the point; being able to see where the other is coming from is, and if I could hear from someone that he heard me and I understood my religion, then I’d feel I’d been able to meaningfully share my path with another of a different path.  Or, someone may like parts of it but feel in no way compelled to give up their own.  I might also like parts of another’s religion, but I don’t plan to give up mine because of that.  I would assume in any such dialog that all parties are going into the discussion with the notion of having an exchange, and not getting a conversion.  You weren’t hoping to convert the Christians, were you? 

  56.  FWIW, I have been able to have open exchanges with several liberal Christians who were pen to sharing their views with me, and open to learning about mine, without any agenda of conversion.  They were interesting and open exchanges, with much insight gained on both sides.  It can be done.

  57.  I have actually had more open religious exchanges with my liberal Christian friends than I have with my atheist friends.  The disrespect from atheists comes in the form of looking down on any sense of religious beliefs, and reflexively, any who hold to them.  Feeling my ideas or practices are disdainful is less desirable to me than open dialog with liberal Christians who are able to have actual respectful exchanges without judgment or a need to convert.  Atheists -can- have their own conversion agenda, and be fundamentalist in their atheism; and similarly a Christian’s belief in a god does not -have- to butt into anyone’s space.  My sense is that this sort of dialog will always be easier with liberal versus fundamentalist types.  I am not clear if fundamentalists are included in this ‘evangelical’ category being referred to in the article.  My experience is that they are usually one and the same, but perhaps that is not the way the word is being used here. 

  58. David, if I am talking about the sacredness of nature and my proselytizer responds that the world is fallen and I’m worshipping Satan, I don’t know if the believe that individually or are just saying that as part of the approved script. It’s not an equal conversation.

  59.  From Morehead’s cited blog post below, on the ‘rules of engagement,’ as it were, in this scenario:  “SEVENTH COMMANDMENT: Dialogue can take place only between equals.”  It would seem that Northern Light has a valid point, in that many Pagans keenly feel this glaring sense of inequality in the eyes of Christians, in which case, how does Mr. Morehead intend to address this in order to keep exchanges in line with this commandment?

  60.  No no–I was asking John specifically how HE would handle such a situation, since that seems to be very difficult for fundamentalists/evangelicals.

  61. Probably nothing has changed in any material sense at the level of denominations and top leadership.  On the other hand, individual Christians are often just as unruly and unorthodox as pagans.  If we look at Catholicism in this light, I think we can all agree that we’d be wasting our time trying to “dialogue” with the pope or bishops about anything. Once you get beyond them, and perhaps 20% of the Catholics in lockstep with them, the game changes considerably on any number of issues.
        Officially, there has been no movement on women clergy, or gay marriage, or birth control, or anything in the church. Yet there’s huge support among Catholics generally for these things in this country. That’s really our only hope for dealing with Christians in any productive way: plenty of them don’t take all their marching orders from corporate. That heterodoxy carries through to the “Great Commission” as well.
        Officially, no Christian denomination of any import will accept leaving us “unconverted.” Some number of individual Christians, however, have their own take on it, from what I’ve seen. They think they’ve got something special and superior, but they figure if they just live their life by that example, they’ve done their bit where the commission is concerned. Some of them insist that conversion is their god’s work and that hard-sell at the human level will only get in the way of that. If I find someone who really is at that level where I feel like they aren’t always angling me for the sales pitch, I can work with that. Are there enough of them like that to make it worth our time? I don’t know. I’m deeply skeptical of the prospects of “interfaith dialogue” but I’ve also learned that you find both enemies and friends in the damndest places.

  62. When someone engages me in conversation, and it becomes apparent that they will say anything, true or not (or half-true or obfuscatory, as is frequently the case in my experience of conversion attempts) in order to convince me, then I realize that we are not in a discussion intended to foster social bonds, but are instead involved in a presentation intended to convince me that their position is a superior one. Since I’ve already considered their positions and rejected them, it becomes obvious to me that is what they are doing, and the whole process seems like a waste of time. They will not consider anything I have to say during their sales pitch, so it won’t be useful to them, I won’t be persuaded by arguments I’ve already rejected, so it won’t be useful to me, and it won’t create social ties, so it won’t be useful to us collectively. Attempts at conversion make conversation impossible.

  63. What can the Third World teach us about witchcraft?
    04 May 2012 | Damon Leff

    A response to, and, from ‘the Third World’.

    In April, Beliefnet Senior Editor Rob Kerby cobbled together a monstrous Islamophobic indictment of witchcraft in the Third World called ‘What can the Third World teach us about witchcraft’. The article has been roundly criticised as a “car-crash”, “thematic mess”, and “lazy slander” by Jason Pitzl-Waters [The Wild Hunt,] and Patti Wigington [] called it plainly what it is, a “crap article”. With the exception of Pitzl-Waters, who made brief reference in his response ‘Beliefnet News Conflates Paganism and Harry Potter with Witchcraft Killings’ to Pagans and “witch-persecutions” in South Africa, none of the considered responses from Pagan bloggers thought it appropriate to defer to Third World Witches themselves for informed comment. As THE African expert on the subject, allow me to answer the question posed by Kerby.

    Read the rest of this response here:

    Penton Independent Pagan Media

  64. I wonder if these Christians understand the fact that while Christianity’s knowledge of Pagan beliefs would fit in a thimble with room left over for my thumb, the  same  cannot be said of Paganism’s knowledge of Christianity. I would be willing to bet that more Pagans have actually read the bible, cover to cover, than  Christians . I have read it myself several times and in  different translations. Christianity thrives on indoctrination of the young , intimidation, threats of damnation, and the arrogance of believing that they have a “God given right” to convert or destroy every one who disagrees with their beliefs. While it would be a very good thing for Christians to actually learn the REAL truth (not the Christian version) about Paganism, we already know about Christianity. Maybe even more than most Christians.

  65. In the first issue of “Sacred Tribes Journal”, John W. Morehead addressed the question, “Why Sacred Tribes?”. Here is how he frames the question in the opening paragraph:

    New religious movements, New Age, Neo-Pagan, and minor non-Christian spiritual movements are a global phenomenon, and for over one hundred years have been the focus of evangelical critique and apologetic. In June 1980 the Lausanne Committee for World Evangelization sponsored the “Consultation on World Evangelization” in Pattaya, Thailand. The purpose was to develop strategies for reaching unreached people groups. One of those groups was called “Mystics and Cultists,” now referred to as new religious movements. The consultation formally recognized new religious movements as unreached people groups comprising frontier missions yet to be encompassed by the kingdom commissions of Christ.

    A little further down, Morehead bemoans the fact that while previous attempts at evangelizing these “cultists” (uh, that would be us) had helped “Christians differentiate between biblical orthodoxy and heresy”, nevertheless this work in the fields of the Lord had not “translated into any substantial evangelistic and discipleship efforts among adherents of new religions.” But then Morehead states that this “impasse” can be “overcome” by “the integration of contextualized mission principles into the apologist’s task.” Morehead then expands on that theme as follows:

    Now in Britain, North America, Australia and New Zealand several evangelical practitioners have been pioneering some practical ways in which the twin disciplines of apologetics and missiology can be complementary practices in the effective proclamation of the gospel to adherents of alternate spiritual pathways. What these western practitioners have discovered in the field is that methodology does not have to become an “either/or” polarization, but rather a “both/and” blending of apologetics with contextual mission principles rooted soundly in the Bible.

    Link to source:

  66. “In our post-Christendom, pluralistic public square, Christians must learn to show respect for other belief and praxis systems by substantiating our claims and criticisms and arguing for the cogency of our own convictions on level ground also occupied by others.”
    This is why the conversation is largely pointless at this time.  

  67. As a former Christian minister and current pagan/Jewish person, I would happily be an a board such as he suggests. I think it is an excellent suggestion.

  68. It really isn’t a matter of the amount of power Christians have. The issue is how they acquired that power and how they have wielded it lo these many centuries. Any talk of “dialog” or “diplomacy” that doesn’t address this head-on can be viewed only as an attempted whitewash. It is sad to see so many Pagans who are so gullible, and who are so eager to join with the Christians and assist them in this transparent extension of their ancient Mission to extirpate us.

  69.  I would be happy to answer any questions you might have about this, Apuleius. You will note in my writings a constant argument for evangelicals to move away from the pejorative label and concept of “cult” and toward terms like new religious movement or minority religion. And as a Christian I believe in sharing the pathway of Jesus in addition to my academic work of understanding and helping others understand. But as I’ve argued previously, this evangelistic component of my faith is not proselytism, and it is never done when it is not welcomed. Thus we balance faithfulness to religious traditions, and fairness in how we engage with one another.

  70.  i would continue with my work of intrareligious dialogue within my own religious community, reminding them of the need to view members of other religious and spiritual traditions as equals and part of pathways that are just as valid as Christianity, even while we may seriously disagree with these pathways. Such intrareligious dialogue training then prepares members of my own community for interreligious dialogue with others. Hopefully other religious communities will do the same in preparing their religious communities for acceptance of Christians and dialogue with us.

  71.  I have no problem admitting this, and this underlies our work in writing the guest commentary. We speak to our religious community in Christianity as much as we do to paganism. Hopefully we can be given credit for the sincerity of our intent and the content of the essay.

  72. In answer to what a few here have said , we a quite willing to have an open  dialog with anyone . We, pagans as a whole donot want to be preached at , converted or be told we going to the Judeo/ Christian hell , that we don’t even believe in . Open, honest well defined dialog is welcomed , we just don’t want to hear the same old conversion/ damnation / Christian superiorority speal we’ve all heard before.      Kilm 

  73. How can one statment make me laugh and make my skin crawl at the same time?  On one hand, I find it laughable that anyone would believe in a god who can’t get through to humanity on his own; on the other, I’ve had long and painful associations with individuals to whom the phrase “listen to God” actually meant “listen to ME.”  There is absolutely no way to have a dialogue with someone like that because their logic is always circular and comes back to one point: no matter what anyone else says or believes, they’re wrong.

  74. John – 

    What I think you fail to realize is, most of us have heard your sales pitch. Many of us (myself not included) came from Christianity, and left because we didn’t care for it, or it did not meet our needs, or from the general emotional abusiveness of its hierarchies.

    Evangelism IS proselytism.  

    From wikipedia: “Evangelism refers preaching the Christian Gospel or to the practice of relaying information about a particular set of beliefs to others with the object of conversion.”

    Proselytism “is the act of attempting to convert people to another opinion and, particularly, another religion.”

    You are here to convert us.  We do not want or need to be converted.

  75. “Sales pitch” is precisely the right term. Like its kissing cousin “religious dialog”, this whole idea of “religious diplomacy” is just an attempt to repackage and rebrand good old-fashioned missionary work, and that is what the quote from Morehead’s article shows very explicitly.

  76. Eran–John is not selling anything but dialog.  And quoting Wikipedia as a way of denying the definition of Evangelism given by a leader in the Evangelical Christian movement is pretty dorky, my friend.

    In the absence of evidence to the contrary, I prefer to take people who are speaking against intolerance within their own communities and in favor of open dialog with those outside it as men and women of good will.  And I am not about to accuse someone who is speaking up on our behalf in the Evangelical community of a hidden agenda with no other evidence than Wikipedia and deep-seated distrust that, like, you know.  He’s a Christian! 

    Q.E.D: he’s eeeevil, eeevil I tell you.

    I’m not hearing anyone trying to convert us.  (Though honestly, if he was?  I don’t know about you, but this is the Internet.  I’m really capable, if flagging a comment for being inappropriate didn’t work, of snorting quietly and hitting the back button on my browser.)

  77. Cat – I’m perfectly content with my dorktitude, and I’m also comfortable with my geekery 😀  
    My response is that I’ll believe it when I see it.  Most of what I have seen of his writing is that he is interested in starting dialogue so that he can preach at us.  I have no interest in that.  In his own words: “And as a Christian I believe in sharing the pathway of Jesus in addition to my academic work of understanding and helping others understand.”  ‘sharing the pathway of Jesus’ == proseltyze.
    If it means something different, please, elucidate further.

  78. John, you could reply meaningful to Apuleius — not guaranteeing you could convince him but you might make his points less influential — if you could agree, up-front and in this space, that no evangelizing is welcomed in FRD space on FRD time. Or agree that this would be a useful codicil to add on in the interests of addressing this barrier to interfaith dialogue.

    I respect the fact that you remain engaged in this conversation.

  79. It is encouraging that two groups whose beliefs are sometimes at end can discuss their beliefs without trying to change the mind of the other.  Once someone attempts to proselytize another, the conversation and dialog is over.

    This is why I believe I also became a Unitarian Universalist.  They all recognize that we all believe in something different, even among a faith group.  Because of that, it makes for a very open environment for sharing of ideas, beliefs, and differences.  In that same way, we share commonalities.

    If this can happen with FDR ( I keep thinking of Roosevelt hehe), then so be it.  However, as evangelicals, it is inherent in their belief and nature to want to change the minds of those they believe have a separate viewpoint.  It will take a lot for them to convince others that their only intentions are to come to a common understanding of what the other believes, to accept them for who they are and not try to ‘save’ them.

    So, as another posted, the ball is in their court.

  80. There wasn’t a reply button to your actual post I’m replying to, but this is what I’m referring to:

    “Asking them to cease their practices, then, is the same as asking them to either change their beliefs or act in opposition to them in some way.”

    The problem is that coming to the table with one’s only desire or objective being to convert others inherently invalidates their whole reason for being there in the first place. If their belief in recruiting others AT ALL TIMES and never being able to look at non-Christians as anything other than possible recruits is that central to them, then how can they honestly, in good faith come to the table with other religions? And why exactly is it our responsibility to ignore the fact that they are not speaking to us with the same goal of respectful dialogue? 

    I don’t think it is unreasonable to basically say, “If you want to speak with non-Christians in a good-faith attempt at respectful dialogue, then your goal must be respectful dialogue.” If their goal is anything else, THEY are the ones invalidating the exchange, and maybe interfaith work isn’t compatible with their personal beliefs.

  81. Baruch, someone raised a similar concern in one of the comments above, and I responded there. I don’t want to repeat that, but FRD is made up of various chapters which represent different religious traditions, maintained by those with respect in each of these traditions. One of the principles of FRD is to allow those in these traditions to be faithful to that tradition. Most religions incorporate an evangelistic element, and thus they would have to compromise their beliefs and practices if this had to be set aside. Having said that, however, this does not mean that evangelism is the only goal of dialogue, nor is it welcomed many times by those participating in dialogue. So evangelicals would not engage in persuasive communication in the sharing of the pathway of Jesus if that were not welcomed by the dialogue partner. By the way, this issue keeps coming up and would make for a wonderful essay and conversation topic to unpack in clarity and civility.

  82. We must distinguish between proselytizing, forcing someone to listen to our religious message and at times even forcing conversion, and what we call evangelism, a sharing of our religious message in winsome ways when it is welcomed. If not, then it is not shared and is removed from the agenda of dialogue topics. I hope that distinction helps.

    Yes, TheoFantastique is my blog. Glad you enjoy it. I also write for Cinefantastique Online, various books and journals, and now on horror, science fiction, and fantasy.

  83.  Yikes! I’m glad this is not the interpretation of most in the comments to this piece. This is a misinterpretation, and an uncharitable reading of the essay and our motives. These are the kinds of misunderstandings and assumptions we’ll have to work together to correct. I and my colleagues are willing to meet pagans half way, but we need you to walk toward us.

  84.  I would not accept this source for definitions. In evangelical circles, particularly in missiology, proselytizing is considered a coercive and unethical practice. Evangelism shares the essence of the Christian message when discussion partners are receptive to it. If not, no evangelism takes place. I think in this we have to go with the distinctions and definitions I bring to the table as a self-defining evangelical and dialogue partner in good faith. So with this in mind, proselytism is not evangelism, and no, I am not here in this forum to convert you, and I respect your lack of desire in being converted.

  85. John, I see the shadow of a couple of category buckets across this remark. Your definitions make sure that any example of evangelizing that causes upset is zip-bang relabeled “proselytizing” and tossed into that category bucket, keeping clean the skirts of contents of the other bucket.

    We sometimes do the same in Paganism. (So we spot it from a distance.) It doesn’t work here. 

  86. Here’s a thought for that essay: By insisting on not barring evangelizing, you are creating a barrier to participation by the very people you’re addressing. You’ve seen the comments. Why can’t you apply some of your Religious Diplomacy smarts?

  87.  Yeah, I’d say the problem is twofold. That they have an immense amount of sociopolitical power, and that so many of them are currently using it to create considerable suffering. Any discussion has to acknowledge both to have full legitimacy in my book.

  88. I would like to say that, although the grounds for dialogue are fraught with obstacles, challenges, misgivings, etc., true conversation can, indeed, take place.  That is, we need to move forward from the “talking down to,” and “talking to,” models of dialogue, and move towards a “talking with,” mode and means of discussion. 

    The previous two models focus on a hierarchal and one-sided sense of conversation, while the third, in the implicit and explicit sense, moves towards an equilibrium of mode and flow of insightful words and statements coming from a myriad of voices.

  89. Thanks for doing the delving. 

    It’s the same old same old. Everybody in the US has heard the sales pitch time and time again and just about every human on the planet has too. Sounds like the FRD is a R&D institute for new improved evangelizing  Whatever the new packaging may be, no thanks.

  90. If someone keeps trying to change something about another person, even when they know the other is uncomfortable with said direction, that’s not “acceptance”.  It’s not “acceptance” to be trying to convert people.

    Look at it this way, if you accepted how someone was dressed, you wouldn’t try to make them change out of it.  But if you thought their clothes are inappropriate, unattractive, or inferior, and you’re raised or your nature was to try pushing your taste on other people, then you would.  If you went around telling people what to wear – some people wouldn’t care, or wouldn’t mind, or maybe even take an interest in what you’d say or even agree, but a great many more would take offense.
    But regardless of their reaction, it’s not “acceptance” to even talk to them about it in an attempt to make them change.

  91. OK, here is what is so galling about this, at least to anyone who knows anything about history. In the ancient world there were hundreds of different religions and myriad schools of philosophy living side-by-side. Then along came the Christians who from the very beginning had nothing but open contempt for everyone else’s world-view. And as soon as the Christians had the power to do so they proceeded “to extirpate all religious alternatives, expressed in the silencing of pagan sources and, beyond that, in the suppression of pagan acts and practices, with increasing
    harshness and machinery of enforcement.”

    [That quote is from Ramsay MacMullen, considered by many to be the greatest living historian of the Roman Empire, from his book Christianity and Paganism in the Fourth to Eighth Centuries.]

    And now we are confronted with the spectacle of Christian missionaries who claim to want to return to the very paradigm of “honest contestation”, which they, and they alone, are responsible for having destroyed. I don’t buy it for a second.

  92.  Agreed, Daniel.  There are those of us who are “bridge people” and really want allies of all stripes and creeds.  We know, on certain activities, we CAN and DO work together.

    A good source for moving toward (as you say) “an equilibrium of mode and flow of insightful words and statements from a myriad of voices” is Deborah Tannen’s book “THE ARGUMENT CULTURE”–

  93. To Mr. Morehead,

    You are always saying that you would never proselytize and would only share the “good news” of your teachings if someone was “receptive” or “welcoming” of it. 

    Please tell us how you know that someone is “receptive” or “welcoming” of it.

  94. Being “true to tradition” for missionaries is being a cold-blooded
    killer and/or exploiter viewing those not their religion as provender or targets for
    anything they want to do.
    The Spaniards, etc. enslaving,  raping,  stealing,  and killing off native populations were Christian missionaries.
    The African groups encouraging killing of women and children accused of witchcraft are supported by US-based Christian Evangelical missionary groups.
    And there’s those using Christian schools as a front for sexual predation.
    I think if you think said behavior is wrong, then bring “The Word” to those labeled Christian missionaries. They seem to be really lost.

  95. Thank you for your comments in response to our blog post. I have
    been unavailable the past few days due to various commitments, and am only now
    in a position to respond. John and I welcome the opportunity to interact with
    you on such pressing concerns. If we cannot create the space to be honest with
    one another, we will never be in a position to move beyond the impasse. So, we
    appreciate the honest feedback. While as Evangelicals we believe in the
    importance of sharing our faith (not shoving or forcing our faith, though this
    is how some Evangelicals operate), we also believe that we need to listen to
    others such as yourselves. We are committed to building community with people
    of diverse backgrounds for the sake of the common good, whether or not they
    ever express interest in evangelical faith in Christ. Key to our biblical faith tradition is
    loving God with all our heart and our neighbors as ourselves (Mark 12:30-31). The Bible does
    not view “neighbors” as those like us, or who agree with us. Most regrettably,
    we have not always practiced these cardinal teachings as a Christian community.
    One of the important items raised in response to our blog post concerned power
    dynamics. This is a key point. The church has often operated from a position of
    power and control rather than in view of Christ’s humble and sacrificial love.
    I am most sorry for the history of hostility and oppression against your tradition
    in the name of Christ. In stark contrast, Jesus himself engaged people from the
    standpoint of sacrificial love and in weakness. I believe firmly that the
    church is at its best when it is not in power, but when it engages relationally
    in compassion from the margins, as was the case in very early church history,
    when the church was a minority and persecuted community, as it is in some parts
    of the non-Western world today. We hope that we can build trust and model good
    will, where we move toward full and equal participation at the table of dialogue
    and diplomacy, and where my own love of power is replaced by Christ’s power
    of love.

  96. No idea how Morehead handles this, but as a pagan, my approach to non-proselytizing is this: The encounter must be wholly driven by the potential convert, not me. If someone wants to join our little corner of Wicca, they have to show that they’re interested and be able to articulate something about why they’re interested. At that point, I’ll help fill in the details as I can and proceed to find out whether our group is a good match for all concerned, but it has to come initially from the other person, not from my sales pitch or from some “opening” they left me in a conversation.  For people who are brand new and have an interest but haven’t yet done their internal homework or any research, not only won’t I not proselytize them, I’ll do some gentle discouragement. Give them some books to read, tell them to come back at the next quarter festival if they’re still interested. Supposedly that was one of the traditions of the old Japanese Kenjutsu masters, who would not take a student until they had demonstrated the persistence of asking on three separate visits. I’m not all that formal about it, but I like the concept. 

       I still struggle with the question of whether any attempts at interfaith dialogue with Christians are worthwhile. I see some powerful points on both sides of the scale. I also struggle with what pre-conditions we ought to place upon them, and what is realistic. Clearly there must be mutual respect, but what does that translate to for us when we view our Christian counterparts? If they agree (and abide by) a promise  not to actively try to convert us, is that  sufficient? Will we only talk  with those who renounce any notion of superiority of their religion at all? If so, we may be asking the absurd and saying that we will only talk with non-Christian Christians. 

       The historical record of Christianity, and more particularly, Christendom in the aggregate is very discouraging for the prospects of real dialogue and mutual respect. As I’ve said though, Christianity is no more monolithic than paganism, and their movement has its free-thinkers and rebels. If we refuse all contact with them to spite the loony Christians, we are actively helping cement the power of the loons in the long run. 

  97. In my opinion, individual “rank and file” Christians should be treated just like anyone else, without any preconceptions. Missionaries, priests, preachers, theologians, etc (like Morehead & Co.), are a different matter. The problems with Christianity are systemic and institutional. Therefore, those Christians who play an active role in maintaining and perpetuating institutionalized Christianity cannot be viewed with anything less than suspicion. To do otherwise is, to put it very diplomatically, naive in the extreme.

    Finally, it is simply not true to say that “Christianity is no more monolithic than Paganism”. The Christians systematically exterminated their own heretics long ago. The result is that while individual Christians do, indeed, hold a variety of opinions (including belief in reincarnation, rejection of Jesus’ divinity, etc), Christian institutions are quite monolithic in their theology, and this, to repeat, is due to the savage persecution of all theological dissent by the Christians themselves.

  98. I will leave this thread with one last thought on the matter. This boils down to the classic dilemma faced by every oppressed minority in history, the choice of separatism vs engagement. I get the allure of separatism, but the historical record is not terribly encouraging. The only real success that comes to mind is Israel, and we don’t have the juice or any particular “homeland” to reclaim by force of arms. 
       We’d do well to consider the example of the gay community in America. They’re winning in a big way by what might be called “radical engagement.” In the span of 20 years or a little more, they beat the bigots (mostly) by winning hearts and minds. Every way in which they engaged regular Americans – TV shows, you name it, conveyed the reality that they are just ordinary folk trying to get along in the world. That robbed the bigots of their power of demonization and isolation, big time. Along the way, they won the support of large swaths of the Christian world, people who on paper would never give them a fair shake. 

  99. And don’t forget the self-predation of heterodox or heretical Christian thought, be it mysticism or spiritualist belief, that started from the 11th century onward and continues to this day.   Papal inquisitions against heretics, Protestant trials against Catholics
    and heterodox beliefs (Calvin, especially.), the Counter-Reformation,
    attacks against the Spiritual Franciscans, etc. 

    Whether or not the message of Christ was one of some kind of brotherly cooperation and love (I know how you feel on the subject, Apuleius), the foundational doctrines of ALL of Christian religious thought are built on the concept of determining dogma at the expense of others. 

    The Church(es) has/have not had a history of being able to play well with themselves, let alone others. 

  100. The “sidelines”? What gives some other Pagan the authority to be the “forefront”?
    If someone wants to cooperate with you, or if they claim they are an authority, that’s fine, but it still wouldn’t make them some sort of “reliable” representative of Paganism, only that of themselves. And those you’d “sideline” represent themselves, too.

  101.  You get it,  and I hope you make some impact on changing the hearts and minds of some Christian missionaries.

  102. If one is born into a family where the family business is murder and extortion, then one must choose whether to remain in the family or not. The sins of the father are not transmitted genetically, but rather by the choices made by the children.

  103.  In the course of conversation I would ask if this is something someone had any interest in hearing. If they said no then I would not share. It’s a matter of good communication, listening and respect. This has worked in a variety of interreligious settings I have been involved in.

  104.  Kenneth, I appreciate what you’re saying here. For me, sharing the pathway of Jesus is not something I do at the top of a conversation, and it is not part of a sales pitch which I find distasteful, although I know this happens. A dialogue partner can share whether they are interested or not in learning more about following a path, and then more can be shared. If not, there are plenty of other worthwhile things to be gained in dialogue, and I reject the idea that dialogue is merely another name for proclamation.

    I also appreciate that you recognize diversity in Christianity. It is so particularly in evangelicalism. We ask to be taken at our word that we want real dialogue and exhibit mutual respect. I suppose in a sense Paul and I, and others, are rebels in this area, but there is a growing interest in this, particularly from younger evangelicals who want to relate to those in other religions different than previous generations.

  105.  From our exchanges here it is clear that we will never see eye to eye, Apuleius, and that’s fine. Not everyone is prepared for dialogue. It is interesting that we have similar personalities and mindsets in evangelicalism who warn that we should not try to have relationships and conversations with pagans, Mormons, Muslims, etc., because they cannot be trusted, are out to convert us, are intolerant, etc. To skeptics of dialogue such as this I respond by saying am simply trying to follow Christ, not the institution of Christendom that has often been riddled with problems historically, as I pursue his example of extending hospitality, dialogue, and inclusion to those on the margins of his society. I wish you the best as you pursue your own path in engaging others in a pluralistic world.

  106. Obsidia:  Thanx!  I will have to add that to my reading pile.  I am already more than a bookwyrm, lol.  Always appreciate recommends!

  107. I am curious if Mr. Morehead and Mr. Metzger have ever read “40 Examples of Christian  Privilege ? And if they have, would they acknowledge their “privileged ” status ? I would find them more believable if they would quit trying to convince everyone about how they are different from other Christians.

  108. this whole idea of “religious diplomacy” is just an attempt to repackage and rebrand good old-fashioned missionary work,

    For some people, perhaps, but certainly not for all Christians (or even all Christian denominations). I number several Christian clergy members among my friends, and they are not engaged in ‘old-fashioned missionary work’ in doing so.

    My experiences with those of other faiths have led me to believe that it is imperative that we engage in religious dialogue, because it re-humanizes those outside our own faith groups, and that is ridiculously important.

    Sure, some types of Christians view non-Christians (or even just non-members-of-their-church) as nothing more than targets. It doesn’t follow that all share this view – and it might be fewer still if we talk together.

  109. I and my colleagues are willing to meet pagans half way, but we need you to walk toward us.

    John, part of the problem is that Christian privilege is so omnipresent in the US that simply by living here, we already live in a state of compromise. So many Pagans feel that we’ve been ‘walking towards’ y’all (willingly or unwillingly) for many years, and all we want y’all to do is stop for a minute.

  110.  I think, in the mind of most Pagans, we should not have to be asked and to say “no.”  Unless we specifically ask to learn more about your spiritual path and your religion, I think it would be more effective if you just assumed that we DON’T want to hear about it, UNLESS WE ASK YOU ABOUT IT.  And even then, that doesn’t mean that we want to convert…only that we may want to understand YOU more.

  111. How about Mirriam Webster, then:

    From Webster’s New Collegiate Dictionary:

    Evangelize: 1. to preach the gospel to.  2. to convert to Christianity.

    Proselytism: 1: the act of becoming or condition of being a proselyte.  

    Proselyte: (n) 1. a new convert.  2.  a convert to Judaism, (v) 3.  to convert from one religion, belief or party to another.

    You are free to reframe the words however you like, but it doesn’t change the definitions.

  112. John,

    In order for us to meet you half-way, Christians would have to back up about a thousand years.

    The primary thing we as pagans are interested in from other religions is to be left alone and not persecuted for our beliefs.  How often is a child removed from their parents because they are openly Christian?  How often is someone fired for being openly Christian?

    How about we agree to this:  you leave your religion out of our legal system, and we’ll do the same.  Get your brothers and sisters in the Evangelical movement to agree that everyone deserves equal protection under the law, and we might have a place to talk.

  113. How _about_ Merriam Webster, Eran?

    From Merrriam Webster online:

    1 : one that is credited with usually malignant supernatural powers; especially : a woman practicing usually black witchcraft  often with the aid of a devil or familiar : — compare warlock
    2 : an ugly old woman : hagAre we, too, not free to change these definitions?  Are we, too, to accept the definitions of outsiders to our community as etched in stone, so long as they have the authority of Merriam Webster (or even Wikipedia) behind them?Really, this is more than a little disingenuous.  How about we not hold others to higher standards than we hold ourselves?

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