Are attitudes towards modern Pagans slowly changing for the better? While there are still plenty of reactionary and hostile attitudes among the Christian faithful, more and more often you can see leaders and clergy who are accepting modern Pagans as a normal part of the fabric of religious experience in America. A recent profile of a new Episcopal priest in Gresham, Oregon seemed to hint at that new reality for a younger generation of Christian clergy.
“The Rev. Jennifer Creswell describes herself as shy and introverted. So of course she decided to pursue that most public of jobs, the ordained ministry. Years ago, aware of her daughter’s religious tendencies, her mother told her she might become a priest someday … After graduating from Grant High School in Portland in 1997, she went to Mount Holyoke College in South Hadley, Mass., where she majored in religion. While there, she found herself interested in Buddhism, Judaism and Wicca. “Learning about the other religions was fascinating and fulfilling,” she said. “I guess it was the whole notion of everyone choosing various paths to God and what forms those paths took.” However, she said she decided to remain a Christian and was drawn to the tradition, rituals and repetitive prayer that characterized Episcopal services.”
Creswell attended school during a time when it wouldn’t be unusual to have Pagan colleagues and friends, as such, she sees it as just another “path to God” instead of some sort of demonic spiritual adversary. Nor is Creswell’s experience unique to the more “liberal” mainline Protestant denominations. Conservative evangelical Christian organizations like The Barna Group have long been “warning” their audience concerning the increasingly open attitudes younger people have towards non-Christian faiths.
“There will be new forms of spiritual leadership, different expressions of faith, and greater variety in when and where people meet together to be communities of faith. Ecumenism will expand, as the emerging generations pay less attention to doctrine and more attention to relationships and experiences. Barna predicted that there will be a broader network of micro-faith communities built around lifestyle affinities, such as gay communities of faith, marketplace professionals who gather for faith experiences, and so forth.”
So while it may be easy to get wrapped up in the latest intolerant actions of certain Christian believers, with some of us concocting doomsday scenarios of a new “burning times”, there is a very good chance that their actions represent the death-throes of certain approach to religious outsiders. The next generation of Christian leaders may surprise us by not only being literate and aware concerning modern Paganism, but by being increasingly willing to engage Pagans with mutual respect in ecumenical settings. A good number of them may have “dabbled” themselves.