We Are The Unreached People Groups

Jason Pitzl-Waters —  May 3, 2008 — 10 Comments

John Morehead blogs about an upcoming conference taking place at Trinity International University in Illinois entitled “Trinity Consultation on Post-Christendom Spiritualities: The New Unreached People Groups”. Who are the “new unreached people groups”? We are.

“The conference will be a gathering of practitioners and scholars addressing the decline of Christianity in the West and the concomitant growth of new unreached people groups expressed in religions and spiritualities such as modern Paganism, New Age, and other alternative spiritualities. Plenary sessions and parallel workshops will address the topics of the future of religion in the West, the make up of the alternative religious marketplace and approaches in engaging adherents of alternative spiritualities.”

The talk is co-sponsored by the Lausanne Committee for World Evangelization Issue Group 16 and the Western Institute for Intercultural Studies. Two groups dedicated to “culturally sensitive” evangelism of new religious movements like ours. Participants include the aforementioned John Morehead, new religious movements scholar J Gordon Melton, and Michael T. Cooper, who recently presented a paper about Druidry.

While I suppose it is flattering to receive all this attention from Christians in our increasingly multi-religious society, it does raise some questions. For example, can open and respectful dialog co-exist with attempts by the same people to evangelize and convert us? John Morehead, who is at the forefront of developing new “culturally sensitive” evangelization tactics, is also breaking new ground in opening channels of dialog between Christians and Pagans. Do these dual roles impair real communication? Can we balance dispelling misconceptions without in turn also empowering those who would see our faiths disappear?

I’m all for better dialog and understanding. I think that a basic understanding of modern Pagan theology and practice by the general populace can only help reduce intolerance, discrimination, and the diabolic fantasies that fueled the “Satanic panics” of years gone by. On the other hand, in regards to dialog with Christians, specifically evangelical Christian movements, these efforts at better understanding have in some way helped fuel a rash of anti-Pagan (though somewhat more accurate) books. Christians are talking to us, but many seem to be doing so to help “inoculate” their children and faith community from the “infection” of a post-Christian culture.

I think Christian scholars like John Morehead are doing us a service, but we must remain open-eyed as we engage them. For many Christians, particularly those actively interested in dialogging with us, their active mandate is to ultimately convert us. “Engaging the unreached” is simply a nicer way of saying “evangelizing the unsaved”. The context and attitudes may be different, but the goals remain consistent.

Jason Pitzl-Waters

Posts

  • Anonymous

    For many Christians, particularly those actively interested in dialogging with us, their active mandate is to ultimately convert us. “Engaging the unreached” is simply a nicer way of saying “evangelizing the unsaved”. The context and attitudes may be different, but the goals remain consistent.Jason, this is exactly why I am distrustful of most of the “interfaith discussions”. While I agree that educational dialog is important, for the same reasons you state, but many of the effective dialogs are taking place with those who are already willing to offer some tolerance to the beliefs of others.Others participate in these dialogs in order to gain our trust, elicit information “from the source”, so to speak, in order to use it against us (much as you wrote in your 3.23.08 post.

  • John W. Morehead

    Jason, thank you for raising these issues in your comment on my blog, and in this post. Thanks as well for the kind comments about some aspects of my work. I and a small group of colleagues are indeed trying to make a good faith effort at moving evangelicals beyond the problematic means of understanding and interacting with people in a variety of new religions.But you raise great questions for the Pagan community to consider, as well as the evanglical and broader Christian community. For my part, I do not see a conflict between my sincere desires to promote understanding and hospitality through dialogue and my other desire to see others embrace the pathway of Jesus. I recognize that many will not choose to embrace that pathway, and that is fine. In addition, engaging others is not synonymous with “evangelizing the unsaved.” Engagement is broader than that and far more holistic in that it includes hospitality, dialogue, living and working together, workign together on common causes, seeking understanding, and at times if appropriate and welcomed, even a persuasive presentation of our differing spiritual pathways. I would not have a probem with a Pagan expressing their concerns over my Christian pathway, even if it works for me, and wanting to see me embrace a form of Paganism. While I might choose not to move in this direction, I would not be offended by such a desire, even though I doubt a Pagan would hold such aspirations. So perhaps for some of us at least it is not merely a situation where only the context and attitudes are different, but the “goals” are different and much more broad as well.But regardless of our present views on these important questions, by all means let’s continue the civil discussion of them, and the related and divergent views on truth and other topics that produce our different understandings.I hope to hear positive comments from other Pagans and Christians on these issues.

  • Phae

    I’ve been down this road more times than I care to count, and unfortunately, the vast majority of the time all you find is someone looking to build a better mousetrap. I’m not interested in providing information that will be used against me and my kin in the future. I sense a very sinister side to many of these ‘open dialogues’. Evangelicals may one day accept that they won’t be able to convert adult Pagans, but that doesn’t mean that they won’t use the information they gather from us today to convert our children tomorrow.–Phae

  • Barbara

    “While I suppose it is flattering to receive all this attention from Christians in our increasingly multi-religious society, it does raise some questions.”Indeed it does raise questions, and I don’t find it flattering at all. In this announcement —“The conference will be a gathering of practitioners and scholars addressing the decline of Christianity in the West and the concomitant growth of new unreached people groups expressed in religions and spiritualities such as modern Paganism, New Age, and other alternative spiritualities.”I find the phrase, “addressing the decline of Christianity” and the word “unreached” particularly offensive in this announcement. The fact that other beliefs are seen as a problem to be rectified is offensive.I nurture love in myself toward all people. But I don’t expect anyone else to believe exactly as I do.This desire to change others’ beliefs, to treat differing beliefs as a problem, is part of the reason I refuse to call myself a Christian ever again, or enter into dialog with anyone about that possibility. I look forward to a day when there’s open dialog between Christians and non-Christians where the Christians don’t have as any part of their agenda the goal of changing my beliefs. My beliefs are just fine, thank you.

  • Chas S. Clifton

    The term “unreached” is doubly ironic when you consider that many of today’s Pagans made a conscious choice to reject Christianity.

  • anothermaine

    Mr. Morehead sounds to me rather rational and sincere.Christians need not ‘infiltrate’ Pagan ranks via such interfaith dialogue in order to get information to use against us…they need only visit the same bookstores and websites that most Pagans do. We have no great secrets that may be used a weapons in some spiritual battle and suggestions that we do only further fuels (some) Christian’s irrational fears that we are somehow less moral, ethical and capable of the same loving human qualities that they wish to see in themselves. Personally, I’m heartened when I hear a Christian speak of seeking “…hospitality, dialogue, living and working together, working together on common causes, seeking understanding…” with Pagans. The author of the Book of Matthew suggests to them that they should share their message. Any of us who are confident in our particular path should no more be offended or worried by this than Mr. Morehead is that he’ll be convinced to become Pagan. (Not, as he mentioned, that Pagans usually engage in prostelytution.) Yes, for years and years we’ve had to fight unfounded fears about who we are and what we are about, but the early 21st Century should be time for us as Pagans confident in who we are to no longer feel threatened or overly annoyed when someone seeks better understanding of us (or even to convert us.) Most Pagans I know, know the Holy Bible at least, if not better, than the Christians I know. If we are strong and comfortable in our own religious choices, then what harm the discussion if along with it, we are amicable and able to work together on common goals. Our own Pagan Community in Maine recently worked together with Christian based Habitat for Humanity on the very first Interfaith Build to create housing for a recently immigrating Muslim family in need. Paranoia and distrust would have kept this sort of thing from happening, but we’ve all come together to work for the greater good.Real understanding of Paganism is a far better thing to base a disagreement on than ignorance, fear and hatred. We stand a much better chance in the long run of the most fervent Evangelicals realising that we are not a threat to their children if they can talk with us, than if they just assume that we are all living debauched lives of hedonistic evil and child abuse because they believe what they’ve seen from Hollywood.

  • Copper Asetemhat Stewart

    I wish that the ancient tradition of public philosophical debates, especially emphasized in the history of Hinduism, could become a part of Western culture… without all the adversarial claptrap… perhaps overtures by missionaries should be met with a challenge to exchange at a public event.

  • Riverwolf

    I’ll for open dialogue and understanding–however, having been steeped in evangelical Christianity for nearly 40 years, this sort of thing often is a means to another end. In my experience, Christians seek dialogue in order to understand exactly how to evangelize. They look for ways they can inject their beliefs and challenge yours–all with the goal of conversion. In truth, they have no interest in learning about pagan beliefs because they consider them evil.

  • Anonymous

    I guess its only ok if i kiss up to john morehead. Yeah, whatever. Christians and pagans should seperate themselves from each other, or the consequences will be nasty.

  • Jason Pitzl-Waters

    “I guess its only ok if i kiss up to john morehead”The many critical comments on this page would put that theory to the test. Your comment was deleted because you went far beyond the bounds of respectful discourse. Name-calling and insulting people you have never met isn’t tolerated here.