The Limits of Christian Tolerance: Florida Edition

Jason Pitzl-Waters —  May 30, 2013 — 80 Comments

This June, Lake Okeechobee Resort in Florida will be hosting a Summer Solstice festival. The Lake Okeechobee Summer Solstice Festival will feature workshops on Celtic Reconstructionism, drumming, belly dancing, gardening, and runes, with musical performances by Lord Alexian, Hecate’s Wheel, and others. It is the first such festival in Pahokee, Florida, and if the local Christians have their way, it will be the last.

A view from Lake Okeechobee Resort.

A view from Lake Okeechobee Resort.

“Pastors from various churches in Pahokee attended Tuesday night’s city commission meeting to express disappointment in city leaders for allowing the event to come to Pahokee. The crowd cheered in agreement as, one-by-one, pastors from around the area admonished city officials for allowing festivals containing witchcraft and occult practices into the city.”

One by one they hurled their spite on the absent Pagan menace they wished their local politicians would repel. Pastor Brad Smith called the event “an abomination,” while Rev. Raul Rodriguez said that “we don’t need this in our town. Not now. Not ever.” Bishop Jared Hines warned that the festival was “not only detrimental to our city but to our county,” and Evangelist Lillian Brown claimed that “God cannot heal our land if we have witches and warlocks violating our community.” Violating, detrimental, an abomination, and that’s only a sample from the mob that vented itself.

summersolsticefiresatmidnight

“When I heard about this I immediately began praying. This event is not only detrimental to our city but to our county. What goes on at that lake will affect us all; it will move from the dike and into our homes.” – Bishop Jared Hines of New Destiny Community Church.

As for the local government? The best Mayor Colin Walkes could muster was that he “cannot legally stop Mr. Gray from allowing the event but I also cannot stop the community from protesting it.” Wow, way to stand up for the Constitution you swore to uphold. The only person with the nerve to stand up for the rights of Pagans was a local resident who correctly noted that “religious persecution no matter which way is wrong.” 

Hecate's Wheel, one of the musical acts performing at the festival.

Hecate’s Wheel, one of the musical acts performing at the festival.

Now, instead of simply enjoying a nice Summer Solstice celebration, organizers and attendees will have to worry about protestors, about proper security, about harassment from the locals. The irony of course is that if the situation were reversed, the noise about Christian persecution would be deafening. The forces of secularism and Paganism would be excoriated for daring to even entertain limiting the freedoms of Christian fellowship. If Pagans dared to march against a Christian event, the protestors would be mobbed with counter-protestors.

Of course, Pagans wouldn’t march against a Christian gathering, they simply want to practice their faith, and Florida has a thriving Pagan community. It’s home to the Florida Pagan Gathering, and the Everglades Moon Local Council of the Covenant of the Goddess, among other groups and organizations. Heck, The Witches’ Voice is headquartered in Florida! I hate to break it to these outraged Christian leaders in Pahokee but the Pagan toothpaste is already out of the tube. So maybe these good Christians might want to engage in some of the famous love and tolerance of their savior.

“But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also.”Jesus

He also said something about leaving secular matters to the secular authorities. But maybe working to drive Pagans out of your town is more important than listening to the mandates of their own faith. I hope not. I hope the Pagans can have a wonderful Summer celebration, can dance around the fire, and can find their own fellowship without having to worry about the animus of Christianity.

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Jason Pitzl-Waters

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  • http://dashifen.com/ dashifen

    We have our own toothpaste!?

    • Salem Pierce

      Didn’t you get the memo?

    • VoiceOfReason71

      I hope it comes in cinnamint …

  • Peter Dybing

    Selena Fox and the Lady Liberty League have begun forming a task force to deal with this issue. Those wishing to take any kind of action around this issue are urged to coordinate efforts with Lady Liberty. Pagans working together have the potential to reduce any possible escalation and insure a peaceful festival.

    Peter Dybing

    • http://patheos.com/blogs/confessionsofapagansoccermom/ krisbradley

      Thank heavens for Selena and LLL!

  • kenofken

    This is a moment when the much-vaunted interfaith movement could actually demonstrate some value. A newspaper ad or letter signed by Christian pastors and other faith groups in the region would be much more effective than pagan attorneys in driving home the underlying issues. If we can’t get our interfaith partners to stand with us when it all hits the fan (and us with them), then the whole business is nothing more than intellectual mutual masturbation.

    • Julie Voye

      not that there’s anything wrong with masturbation.

      • The_L1985

        True, but it’s also not, er, “fruitful.”

      • kenofken

        Not at all, and it would probably be a very good bonding activity in this whole interfaith business. We’d probably build a lot more bridges naked, but also need them to turn up with shields and spears to stand with us when the going gets ugly.

        • Lēoht Sceadusawol

          When building bridges (or any other sort of construction project), the appropriate PPE must be worn. ;)

        • Faoladh

          Naked with shields and spears? So what you are saying is that you need Gaulish Reconstructionists. :D

          • Aedh Rua

            “Delwa sindon woxtlon esti wer” me, or, in English, “I resemble that remark”.

          • Lēoht Sceadusawol

            We already have one Channel Tunnel, thanks. :p

  • Wolfsbane

    I’d be a bit more impressed if they had gotten the punctuation in their flyer correct. This being Florida however, no one is likely to notice it anyway.

    • aeruin

      The correctnesd or otherwise of the punctuation depends on what they are trying to say. If they are going for “the fire occurs at midnight,” then what they have is correct, if sloppy. (Dropping “the.”)

      I have to say, though, if that really is their flyer, I’m not surprised the “Christians” are freaking out. Even my first glance brought to mind “fire and brimstone.” No, to us, there’s nothing wrong with it, but to a bible-thumper it looks like the very epitome of hellfire.

      • http://profiles.google.com/marc.k.mielke Marc Mielke

        That bothered me too; I can’t think of an interpretation that makes the poster correct. If one of the honored guests (worthy of mention on the poster) is named ‘Fire’, then we’re missing a word somewhere: Fire’s (WHAT) at Midnight?

        Although taking out the ‘at’, “Fire’s Midnight” is a pretty good name for a band, kind of like “Blackmore’s Night”

        • Faoladh

          Try “[The] Fire Is At Midnight”, which is a legitimate interpretation of “Fire’s At Midnight”.

  • Michael520

    This article is in error. No Christians were represented amongst the protestors. Thank you.

    • The_L1985

      No True Scotsman?

    • Baby_Raptor

      Sorry, dude. You don’t get to decide who is and isn’t a Christian.

      Sitting around denying that people who do things you don’t like really share your religion isn’t helping you. It’s making you look *just as bad* as the jerks to the people the jerks are stepping on.

      • Michael520

        Sorry dude, it’s just like saying if a dude wants to be called a Martian, that’s what we should identify them as. If they don’t follow the teachings of Christ, they can’t be Christian, even if that’s what they want to identify themselves as to the world. Your sad attempt at political correctness falls on deaf ears.

        • Lēoht Sceadusawol

          They follow the teachings of Christ. That makes them Christian. Just because some don’t like their interpretation, doesn’t mean moral superiority can make exclusivity valid.

  • Indigo

    Investor alert: see what Florida’s about?

  • Amber Moon

    We will attend, worship, have fun and they will protest. It’s our right and their right too.

  • Bruce Mullins

    Thank you for your article, its good to see a professional journalist!!

  • American Spiritual Alliance

    Just wanted to say that it isn’t that way all over Florida. Our organization was invited to participate in an upcoming event on the Solstice hosted by a Christian Based interfaith group. They have designed the event centering around the Solstice and many of the Pagan practices surrounding it. We are quite excited about the opportunity and look forward to possibly making a small inroad to understanding and acceptance of our values.

    Blessings;
    Rev. Joshua

  • Mark Carter

    Funny how the website for the festival mentions a “five star restaurant” and “Tiki bar with fire pit.” I wonder how much money the pagans will bring into the town? Maybe some of the local businesses there can stick up for pagans as bringing new money into the town.

    • Erin Zelnio

      In the article I read last night, the man who rented the property to the festival said he did it specifically to help the town’s economy. He pointed out that he’s been working hard to bring in outside business for the tourist trade, and seemed really irritated that no one sees the benefit of a 1000 pagans showing up for a long weekend who will need to buy supplies.

      My immediate concern, then, was local businesses purposely refusing to serve pagans due to the local Christian leaders freaking out.

      • Katlaya Gee

        I doubt very seriously that the locals will refuse to serve the pagans. I could be wrong, but generally greed wins out over self-righteous indignation every time.

      • Scott

        It would be illegal for them to refuse to serve pagans – it’s a public accommodation issue, already settled by the Supreme Court.

        • Lēoht Sceadusawol

          Only if they cite the reason for refusal, surely?

          • Scott

            Nope not as far as I can tell. You have to serve everyone unless there is a legitimate reason that applies to everyone – like no shirt = no service which would presumably apply to everyone.

          • Lēoht Sceadusawol

            Over here, in good ol’ Blighty, there is a ‘right to refuse service’. Cite a reason and it can be discriminatory, but don’t cite a reason and the refusee has to prove there was discrimination.

            (I believe this right was given to allow the eviction of those causing a scene/disturbance. But everything is open to abuse.)

        • Erin Zelnio

          You can refuse service to anyone you want if your establishment is privately held. So, for example, a family-owned cafe can kick out whomever they want. However, McDonald’s can’t because it’s a public company, UNLESS the individual(s) can be shown to be breaking some kind of law, such as “creating a public nuisance.”

          • Scott

            Erin that is unfortunately untrue. Look up the Supreme Court case law on public accommodation businesses, out of the civil rights era. It has been tested again and again. If you offer a good or service to the public at large, you cannot arbitrarily kick certain people out – in this case pagans. You either offer to everyone or no one. You can have a dress code that everyone is subject to for example. Regardless of the “we reserve the right to refuse anyone service for any reason”, the law is the law.

  • Michael Hubbard

    A friend of mine suggested something I thought was quite clever. Send word out to the participants to start stocking up on dollar coins and 2 dollar bills, and then use them to pay for things in town. When they see the money the festival brings in, they may well change their tune.

    • Daniel FitzGerald

      I’ve heard of this tactic before, and its been quite effective: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_States_two-dollar_bill#Increasing_usage (see line about Geneva Steel).

      And for those who didn’t know, it is possible to get $2 bills from your local bank. From http://www.usethetwo.com: “The best way to get a two dollar bill is to check with your local bank. Since they are hardly used, you will most likely have to request them. Some banks keep a few in the teller drawers, while others require a trip to the vault. Certain banks vary in the amount bills they have on hand. I have found that in the New Jersey area, TD Bank has the most twos on hand. If you are really into obtaining them, you can call ahead to the local branch to make sure they have some before venturing out. If you don’t have much luck, you can ask your bank to order them for you. Some banks have minimum order amounts (usually one strap of 100 bills—$200 dollars).”

  • http://entdinglichung.wordpress.com Entdinglichung

    Christians in general or conservative Evangelicals claiming to represent Christianity as such?

    • cernowain greenman

      Um, last time I checked Evangelicals are Christians. Yup, they’d be Christians.

      • http://entdinglichung.wordpress.com Entdinglichung

        they are part of Christianity but (as they offen pretend to be) not “The Christians” (excluding Catholics, Orthodox, mainline Protestants, etc.)

        • Scathatch

          … no. You do not get to pick who is or is not a “Christian.” I’m a former Catholic, I went through the whole shebang up to Confirmation and promptly left the church, and even the Mother Church would agree that Evangelicals are definitely Christians (though not “the right kind,” of course.) Catholics are no more “The Christians” than Evangelicals are – no one group is a monolith of “True Christianity” at this point. “Christianity” – like “Paganism,” ironically – is a huuuuuge umbrella term describing a group of different sects that share certain core tenets but can (and often do) deviate on nearly everything else. An Irish Reconstructionist and a heathen are both Pagans. A Catholic and an evangelical are both Christians.

  • Lēoht Sceadusawol

    Democracy in action?

    • J

      Bourgeois, neoliberal state-capitalist pseudo-democracy in action.

      • Lēoht Sceadusawol

        If it is the will of the majority…

  • saphira

    I think these christians need to be respectful of peoples beliefs and opnions xx This is discrimmination xx it disgusts me that these christians feel its ok to protest at another religions event… Do the pagans stand outside ur churchs and protest that ur religion is wrong and evil. No they dont they are respectful of your beliefs. So let them worship who they wish.

    • cernowain greenman

      Get ready for the chick tracts. I’ll bet you odds that you will see lots of ‘em handed out at the festival.

  • Ariesgirl77

    I wish people would inform themselves before throwing a fit about our practices. Dancing around a fire, vending, rituals, music, families, friends, and camping. WOW! Sounds like something to get into a roar about. I keep wondering if people are secure in their faith, shouldn’t they not worry about what others do? Ignorance breeds fear and fear breeds hate. I find this funny and sad all at the same time.

  • http://www.facebook.com/john.w.morehead John W. Morehead

    I
    sent an email to the mayor and city council offering my educational
    services on Christianity and Pagan interactions from the perspective of
    love of neighbor. It’s unfortunate to see this conflict. Selena Fox called me about this last night as well.

    • Peter Dybing

      Good to see you involved John, While we don’t always agree on everything. Ther are so many areas where we can work together!

  • Dana Eilers

    This causes me to wonder whether the contract which this organization has with the resort covers security.

  • Nicole Youngman

    Fundamentalism has a very strong territorial aspect–Pagans (and other minority religions) are seen as an invading force, hence all the nuttery about “they aren’t welcome HERE” and “this is OUR town” etc. We had a smaller version of this in South Louisiana a few years ago when a local Pagan bought a nice piece of property in a rural area and started having little festivals a couple of times a year. When we show up visibly it reminds the fundies that 1) they can’t control everyone’s beliefs and 2) as things get increasingly multicultural around the country it’s going to be harder and harder for them to have areas that stay “purely” xian, where they can control the culture and won’t ever have to encounter people who are different. (I mean, their KIDS might see us and KNOW WE EXIST, and we can’t have THAT, can we!?!?)

    • Katlaya Gee

      OH! You mean kind of like North Korea does. (grin)

    • Scathatch

      You’re so right. The gays, the Pagans – hell, even people with funky-colored hair or tattoos – all seem to run into the same argument. “But what about teh childrenz?!”

  • Hilda Whitby

    If they object to paganism, they don’t have to attend the festival.

    This is America, and we don’t discriminate against religions here. Christian or non-christian.

  • Sugarbush43

    As a Christian, I can firmly say that you should not let these so-called pastors and false representatives of the Christian faith win. It is not up to us to stop a pagan festival. If anything, perhaps they should join in to learn more about another religion. How can you denounce something about which you know nothing? We can’t just pick and choose what we want to accept out of the teachings of Jesus Christ. Sadly, His biggest message typically goes unheard by His own – the message of unconditional love to all other human beings.

    Have fun and enjoy the celebration of the solstice. I would love to attend, but Texas is just too far away.

  • Bill D. Cat

    Not quite sure what the writer wants the mayor to do here. Walkes is quite right…he can’t stop people from protesting this event, so long as they remain within the law as they do so.

    • kenofken

      No, he can’t stop people from protesting nor should that even be asked of him. It would have been good if he had made an unqualified statement in support of religious freedom as a value of his town and welcomed all visitors to experience what his area has to offer. That’s all it would have taken. Just something more than “we can’t arrest them for what they’re doing.” Whether he meant to or not, his waffling essentially appointed those angry pastors as the ambassadors and the face of Pahokee to the rest of the world.

      • Bill D. Cat

        It’s not too late for the participants of this gathering to ask Walkes to do just that.

  • jadeyne

    Fires at Midnight is a song. Written by a very respected band called Blackmore’s Night. Ritchie Blackmore from Deep Purple of the 60s formed this band with his wife of many years Candice Night. They are an award winning folk group with international audiences and fans of ALL religious beliefs.

    • John Burt

      There’s also a rather nice Jethro Tull song “Fire at Midnight”.

  • Katie Call

    Goddess bless them. I hope everyone stays safe. :(

  • Dinah Jackson

    heck… if it can’t be held there ya’ll are more than welcome to come to WicHaven Grove north of Yuma AZ and dance yer wee hearts out!!!!

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1070452920 Rob Whitford

    Of course; it will be the end, Christians are threatened by anything that questions their Dogma, because without they Would, get swallowed up by their Devil, in truth, he is only a Man made constraint, in the Tarot, ” the Devil card depicts a nude Man and Woman, on a leash held by the Goat headed monster, yet, the Collars are large enough to easily lift, and flee from. Self made prison.

  • Aedh Rua

    Having spent time in one of the Glades cities, not too far from Pahokee, let me say that they have their own mini-totalitarianism going down there. Having studied real historical totalitarianism, I don’t use the term lightly or without understanding. The Christianity is ubiquitous, intrusive, and intolerant. To get through the day, you must participate in public displays of religiosity, state-supported. It is not enough to live quietly, participation is required to avoid notice. It comes up in most conversations, one way or another. I had to be careful what I told people about not only religion, but also my tastes in music, literature, art, and so on, because any slip could lead to their realization that I wasn’t who I claimed to be. I dressed differently, even in my off-work hours, to avoid raising suspicion. Everything came down to avoiding detection; secrecy was my way of life.

    As someone who believes in the virtue of Truth, I hated what I had to do on a daily basis to survive, and hated myself for doing it. In the end, the environment there was one of the most important factors in my decision to leave.

    I don’t know what would have happened if I were found out. Some people might well have accepted me. But others would have been outraged by my mere existence. From some of the hotheads in town, violence would not have been impossible by any means.

    Despite this, I still have friends there, and a few fond memories. Thinking I was one of their own (though I never actually *said* I was Christian), the people were very kind, decent, generous, and welcoming. They are not bad people. Very nice, actually. This is something that must be understood. They are not doing what they do out of cruelty or desire for dominance. They merely believe that their way of life and values, including religion, are established by God, as the right way of living, and also as their heritage. And they see any criticism or intrusion of modern ways as a mortal attack on a way of life they see as under siege.

    The best way to reach them is to emphasize not the money we will bring to town, but that we respect their way of life, and will not try to change them. If we can refrain from “freaking out the straights”, and keep a low profile, they may well warm to a level of acceptance. There are a lot of tourists who come to Lake Okeechobee, for the fishing and the peace, from all over the world. The local people have learned to make room for them, and for the diversity that naturally exists in what is an Anglo-Afro-Hispanic multi-racial, muticultural community. They have learned to make room for Indian and Pakistani business owners. They can come to make room for us, too, but we must go slowly, and we respectful of traditions that are very deeply held.

    • cernowain greenman

      How long do we have to hide in the shadows?

      • Lēoht Sceadusawol

        The shadows are good. Always with a welcome embrace, and nurturing.

        (Anyone with a fear of the dark just hasn’t seen what the light can do.)

        That said, do not feel you ‘have’ to hide. All hiding has achieved for the Pagan communities is a lack of cohesion and an inability to truly see numbers.

      • Scathatch

        We don’t, actually. I live in a conservative area of the Northeast with a small but thriving Pagan community – all kinds. At first, this sort of thing – outraged pastors, angry parishioners afraid we’d be throwing babies into wicker men or something – did occur. Within three years, however, it had died down. We didn’t make spectacles of ourselves, but we also didn’t hide solstice celebrations or religious gatherings. When we met resistance, we just didn’t yield. Eventually that resistance fell away. You have to walk through the fire at some points.

    • Lint Hatcher

      Wow. I’m a Catholic in the Protestant South and I didn’t realize how much I am compromising myself until I read Aedh Rua’s post.

  • ShineFiddler

    Same thing happened in Dahlonega, Georgia awhile back.
    The local Gendarme-Goon actually threatened the landowner with (false) imprisonment & death if he allowed any more “inappropriate” gatherings.

    • Maria P

      Pahokee is in Palm Beach County which also includes large tourist cities of West Palm Beach and Boca Raton. They might be conservative but they also know that most tax dollars come from the tourist industry in the state of Florida.

  • Brenn E Romero

    Why can’t we trow them in the fire then feed their ashes to the wind????

  • sherry moore

    not surprised , there just showing there small minds

  • Hawthorn

    In amongst all of the outcry from a minority of Christians, why isn’t the pagan community questioning the ethics of a festival that promotes such rampant racism and appropriation of Native American spiritualities? Surely we should know better by now?

    • Maria P

      I haven’t heard anyone from the Seminole Reservation comment on this. I may go ask my new neighbor who has just recently moved from there though.

  • Tara Garretson Jordan

    While I understand the anger from our community what I don’t understand is our response to it all…If anyone understands that two negatives will never equal a positive it should be our community! Here’s how I see it,at the end of the day we won because were still moving forward with this festival and the feelings of those people has not changed anything. They are free to protest as the choose to,no matter how much we yell and complain about it we are not going to stop it but we are free to change our reactions to the actions of these people and maybe by going about our business,enjoying this festival and celebrating who we are and what makes this community of ours one of love,treating everyone even those who disagree with what we are doing with respect we will achieve peace. You cannot change someone else but you can hope that they will see that we are not the villains that they were taught to believe and if we show respect for this town,respect for its community members and businesses maybe,just maybe we will be welcomed back next year!!

  • Somer Stoutes

    It’s sad to see them freaking out over a Pagan festival, but they probably won’t have such a cow over a renaissance festival….. even though they both have a very similar festival setup……

  • live in pah but not from there

    “5 star restaurant”?? I hate to break it to you, but you are having your festival in the middle of a VERY rural area. It is a 45 minute drive to any big chain restaurant, let alone a 5 star restaurant. The only businesss that you will be supporting in this town are 3 gas stations, a Save A Lot and a Family Dollar. There is nothing else in this town. You might want to send someone to drive around this crazy place to look around, because your flyer for the festival is leading people to believe they are coming to someplace nice.

    • Maria P

      miles and miles of sugarcane fields…………..

  • Maria P

    Dancing for joy that I will only travel but an hour to enjoy the festival. What a wonderful opportunity to do some interfaith work. Pahokee and the surrounding communities are agricultural, mainly sugarcane. The processing of sugar stinks but for many who live out here, it is the source of their income and to them “it’s the smell of money”.

  • Christopher Lamar Carter

    I didn’t get the memo about the toothpaste either does it come in wintermint? and they should start the celebration and when the protestors come start a second ring around them so that they are caught between two rings of pagans celebrating and dancing.