Wednesday, January 03, 2007

How Did I get it Wrong?!

Bobby presented a thought for consideration, "Perhaps you've miscalculated how Christians might misunderstand you?"

This was one of the last comments of the meeting. To the four of us who had been called in to give account of our supposed crimes against the orthodoxy of the faith, it seemed that Bobby's words were the only reasonable words of the morning.

For three hours we responded to questions, and dealt with accusations which alleged that we were somehow deficient in our doctrine, misguided in our passion to reach people who lived way outside the box we Christians call normal, and that we were dabbling in the occult. Forty-five minutes was dedicated to answering the question, "How can you be friends with Witches?" That question hardly seems to need an answer to someone who is following Jesus.

Apparently Bobby was right. We had miscalculated how Christians would misunderstand us.

The mayor didn't misunderstand us, and he was a Christian. The city committee members we had to work with each year didn't misunderstand us, and some of them were Christians. The hundreds of regular Christian volunteers who helped us perform our Halloween outreach over the last seven seasons didn't misunderstand us. The people in our little church didn't misunderstand us. But Bobby was correct Christian leaders did misunderstand us.

Thinking back, instances of misunderstanding come to mind.

    The Short Silence

We were walking into the restaurant talking about the people of Salem, Massachusetts. This was a meeting with the District Supervisor for all the states from Ohio to Maine. I mentioned the religious affiliation of the people in the city. In the statistics Pagans came up. I said something about the "Pagans in Salem."

A short silence followed.

As we entered the doors, Tom said, "Phil, you might want to explain what you mean by Pagan. I am not sure they understand. They might think you are speaking ill of the people in the community"

It's true, I have to be reminded that Evangelical Christian leaders often do not know much about religion. They know about their own little sect of Christianity. They know about the Bible. They do not know about Mormons, Jehovah Witnesses, Muslims, Hindus, Christian Science, the New Age, or Neo-Paganism. A Pagan is someone who lives a decadent lifestyle in rebellion to God in their personal dictionary. The term is derogatory.

I do not comprehend a religious leader not knowing about the other religions of the world. More specifically, I do not understand not knowing about the religious groups which are influential in our own communities. How do we respond to the person who comes with questions about religion?

Perhaps you have an interest in an alternative religion such as Neo-Paganism, and have been afraid to share it with your Christian friends. You might have a family member, a friend, or a co-worker who is experimenting with spirituality,and they are not open to discuss it with you for fear of you misunderstanding.

Pastors should be some of the first people in the community who are sought after for advice on pursuing spirituality. Unfortunately, we are often the last. In my city many people will visit the Tarot card reader first. Ever wonder why?

    Those Pagans

Just a few weeks before the allegation filled meeting, I stood in front of the conference and invited the church leaders to come to our outreach in Salem. I quickly mentioned that we need to become sensitive to today's religious vocabulary, "Pagans" and "Heathen" which were once derogatory terms in Christian churches were now religious affiliations being adopted by thousands of people every day.

The main speaker had made a reference to the "pagans" in his community. He meant decadently living, God ignoring, selfish people, and the term was derogatory. Perhaps that was a bad career move on my part. Then again I am known for pushing the edges of convention.

This speaker was presented as a model for reaching a community. He was from Northern California. I know there are lots of Pagans in Northern California, and I mean those of the religious variety. This pastor did not realize that he had set the standard in front of a Pastors' conference for stripping people of their dignity by using their religious affiiation as a passing putdown.

I believe that our words, our prayers, our ideas, and our intellect all have power which God wants to use. God even wants to use Pastors of churches to help your community. If you've been offended by Christian leaders you may find that hard to believe. Me too occasionally, but I do believe that God can redeem anyone - even pastors like me.

So I guess its up for debate. What do you think? Did I get it wrong?

You can also visit me at Square No More where I blog about missional living, and rethinking our little Christian lives. ;-)

Read up on our full story at Next Wave E-zine.
See the Wall Street Journal Article


Marieke said...

I think it's sad that some Christian leaders (and Christians in general), get so caught up in Christian "culture" that they don't take the time to learn a little about different religions. I don't study other religions indepth and by no means am I very knowledgeable, but I am willing to learn and I do know enough about our culture in America to know that there are those who call themselves Witches or Pagans and they are talking about a religion, a world-view.

Your mistake, if anything, was to expect that Christian leaders would be at least aware of the various religions within their communities and within American culture.

I'm glad that there are leaders out there like you.

Anonymous said...

You know it's odd.... or is it? Thinking on your experiences of certain 'Christian' responses to your learning about the beliefs of those you have been reaching out to, I followed on to think of my own experiences within the Pagan community.

I've been talking to Christians, finding out about their beliefs and practises, their interpretation of the Christian faith for about 5 years now. I've been advocatig and putting into practise the idea of Pagans actually communicating with Christians and learning a little bit about the Christian faith that they might have thought they knew all about. Within the Pagan community I have met opposition. One person is still publically calling me a plastic Pagan, suggesting I'm naive and that evangelical Christians cannot be communicated with. Hmmmm, still communicating with evangelical Christians. Still seeing evangelical Christians learn that their previous notions of Pagans might have been somewhat flawed. Still following my Pagan path.

I think there are those who fail to pick up on what is actually happening in all spiritual paths, probably in all walks of life. Anything that looks like it doesn't fit within their nice safe little set of beliefs and prejudices about other groups is just plain dangerous. What they don't seem to realise is that as long as they continue down this line, they too will be subject to prejudices and myths. Or perhaps they don't care. Perhaps that kind of thing gives them the opportunity to cling to persecution concepts (evident in both the Christian and the Pagan community, sometimes justified, but generally not).



Pastor Phil said...


It is a shame, and for people who spend their lives helping others in their spiritual pursuits it ought to be a required area of study in our poly-religious culture. I do not expect every priest and pastor to be an expert, but at the least they should be sensibly conversant on the subjects of other religions.

Pastor Phil said...

Do you mean to tell me that prejudicve is not the dominion of fundamentalist Christians? Gadzoooks! My world is crashing around me. I thought only I could be prejudiced and get away with it.

Webb Kline said...

I must confess that I never gave the Pagan, pagan distinction any thought before reading your blog. I never meant anything derogatory when using the term, just making a distinction between followers and non-followers of Jesus. But then, what name gets used more loosely than Christian? Now there's a melting pot of cultural cornucopia if there ever was one. ;)

As for your questions: Sadly, it all had to happen, my friend. But, when all the cows finally come home to roost, it will be a great blessing.

Pastor Phil said...

When cows come home to roost, I will be watching the sky for some serious droppings!

Webb Kline said...

Too late, Phil. The Golden Cow of Institutionalism already had a massive enema right over top of you.

Still, when they roost, you will be filled with laughter--and vindication.

Pastor Phil said...

enema? Gross.

Anonymous said...

'Do you mean to tell me that prejudice is not the dominion of fundamentalist Christians? Gadzoooks! My world is crashing around me. I thought only I could be prejudiced and get away with it.'

Sorry to cause your world to crash so dramatically. ;)



Adam Gonnerman said...

I always thought of "pagan" as the derogatory term, and "neo-pagan" as the term for the distinct religious group. Then again, I only dabbled in the occult as a teenager and read a few things here and there since regarding earth-based religions.

Pastor Phil said...


You are in the majority among Christians. We are behind the times in the changing terms of our society, and it takes a lot of work to keep up.