Archives For 2012 Presidential Race

[You can read part one of this entry, here.]

 05. Ginger Strivelli, School Bibles, and Buncombe County Schools: The story began at the end of 2011 when North Carolina Pagan Ginger Strivelli challenged her child’s school’s policy regarding the distribution of religious materials. Strivelli felt that the manner in which Gideon Bibles were made available violated the Establishment Clause, and ostracized non-Christian students who didn’t want to use a special break to obtain a Bible. Strivelli, along with local activist and Pagan leader Byron Ballard, and a growing coalition of local residents, made clear that the board needed to remain neutral on matters regarding religion. So began a year of contentious school board meetings, death threats, and mainstream media coverage.

Ginger and Sybilsue Strivelli (Photo courtesy of Fox News).

Ginger and Sybilsue Strivelli (Photo courtesy of Fox News).

For awhile there seemed to be a balance of people who supported and opposed the policy. But then some preachers got up and made direct personal attacks to Ginger. They claimed she was the only one with a problem with the bible distribution. Little do they understand how many pagans in the county that fear coming out and speaking up. And after that meeting, I completely understand!  Then it got even worse when a preacher spoke up that only bibles should be allowed in schools. And that is when the preaching began. People after people felt the need to quote scripture. One guy even read from the bible and stated that if we were real pagans that our ears would burn after listening to the scripture. - Angela Pippinger of The Pagan Mom Blog.

Eventually Buncombe County Schools passed a new religion policy that stressed neutrality, and will allow distribution of religious materials, but only once a year, along with non-religious community groups, and after regular school hours. All of these changes came about because one Pagan mom decided to speak up, and her bravery inspired a community to hold true to the secular and pluralistic principles our country was founded on.

04. Pew Forum’s Landmark Prison Religion Survey (and How That Affects Pagans): In March of this year the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life released the findings of a 50-state survey of prison chaplains.  The survey, which was endorsed by the American Correctional Chaplains Association, interviewed 730 prison chaplains, and has a lot of interesting things to say about religion in the American prison system. At first glance, there are no major bombshell revelations to drive the news cycle, leading to initial headlines like “a lot of religion goes on behind bars.” However, if you start digging into the data, especially the section on what chaplains think about the inmate’s religious lives‘, there’s a lot there that should be of concern to modern Pagans, particularly Pagans engaged in prison outreach and chaplaincy work.

Pagan chaplain Patrick McCollum, who testified before the US Commission on Civil Rights on prisoner’s religious rights in 2008, was deeply involved in this survey and helped shape some of the survey’s questions, and helped shift “the perspective of the main researcher’s goals in ways that I feel benefited our community and minority faiths in general.”

 

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“The inclusion of Pagan & Earth Based religions as a category in the survey carries several huge benefits for us as a community. First, for many years, correctional systems, courts, and other governmental agencies have been able to deny us our rights, by simply making the argument that we either don’t really exist, or that if we do, we are so insignificant in numbers that there is no need to legislate or accommodate in our favor. Now with the survey, that argument is irrefutably null and void.”Patrick McCollum

The data given to us here by the Pew Forum is a boon. Even taking into account the Christian lens through which most of this data was obtained and filtered through, it gives us needed information is discussing and addressing the needs of Pagan prisoners. It underscores the challenges, and affirms what many already suspected: that the Pagan population in prison is growing, that the institutional chaplaincy is disproportionately Christian and conservative in makeup, that extremism (whatever its true extent) is an ongoing concern, and that we simply don’t have the volunteers or institutional muscle in place to properly address prisoner’s needs. Just as it is on the “outside” our growth continually outstrips the pace in which we can train clergy or build institutions and services. In short, we have a lot of work to do.

03. Chaplaincy for Pagans in Canadian Prisons: The controversial move this Fall by Canadian Public Safety Minister Vic Toews to retract a paid position for a Wiccan prison chaplain was merely a harbinger of much bigger things. In October the CBC reported that Toews, who oversees Canada’s penitentiaries, eliminated all paid part-time chaplain services, effectively making government prison chaplaincy a Christian-only affair.

Canadian Public Safety Minister Vic Toews

Canadian Public Safety Minister Vic Toews

“Inmates of other faiths, such as Muslims, Sikhs, Buddhists and Jews, will be expected to turn to Christian prison chaplains for religious counsel and guidance, according to the office of Public Safety Minister Vic Toews, who is also responsible for Canada’s penitentiaries. [...] Toews’ office says that as a result of the review, the part-time non-Christian chaplains will be let go and the remaining full-time chaplains in prisons will now provide interfaith services and counselling to all inmates.”

Toews’ office said in a statement to the CBC that “[Christian] chaplains employed by Corrections Canada must provide services to inmates of all faiths.” This lead one Sikh chaplain to ask the obvious question: “How can a Christian chaplain provide spirituality to the Sikh faith, because they don’t have that expertise.”

So from this point forth, all non-Christian chaplaincy services to federal prisons must either be provided by volunteers, or the prisoners: Wiccan prisoners, Pagan prisoners, Buddhist prisoners, First Nations prisoners, must all turn to the full-time (Christian) chaplains for spiritual guidance and resources. I wasn’t overly surprised when Toews decided to engage in a little discriminatory Witch-kicking, our community has weathered those slings and arrows for years, but this is something far more audacious. Toews and his office are essentially doubling down, saying that a full-time Christian chaplaincy is enough to handle all faiths, no matter what their history or relationship with Christianity might be. It’s stunning. Whether he’ll be allowed to get away with it is, I suppose, up to the Harper administration and Canadian voters.

02. Census Data From Australia and the UK Show Paganism’s Growth:  In 2011 I reported on efforts in Australia and Britain to encourage more accurate census counts of Pagans by asking respondents to use a uniform Pagan-[tradition/faith] format. This year we got to see the fruits, if any, of these efforts. First, Australia’s numbers came in, with over 32,000 modern Pagans (up from around 29,000 in 2006), then, we got to see the number of England and Wales where over 80,000 individuals identified with some form of modern Paganism (depending on how forgiving you want to be with labels). In addition, the base number of people identifying as “Pagan” shot up to nearly 60,000. This is about double the numbers from the last British census.

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“Compared with the 2001 Census the most significant trends were an increase in the population reporting no religion – from 14.8 per cent  of the population in 2001 to 25.1 per cent  in 2011, a drop in the population reporting to be Christian – from 71.7 per cent  in 2001 to 59.3 per cent  in 2011, and an increase in all other main religions. The number of Muslims increased the most from 3.0 per cent  in 2001 to 4.8 per cent  in 2011.”

These figures point to some success for the Pagan Dash campaign, though they were not the far larger estimates many were hoping for. Still, this shows encouraging growth for modern Paganism, particularly in England and Wales. The growth of Pagan and minority faiths, along with the rapid increase of those who claim no particular religion point toward an imminent re-alignment of the status quo when it comes to matters of faith and belief in the Western world. The new census data will provide a lot of new information for Pagan activists, and for Pagan scholars, and may have repercussions we haven’t anticipated yet.

01. The Rise of Post-Christian Elections in the United States: After the 2012 elections here in the United States I posited that this was a post-Christian election, and that the results could be a glimpse into the future of America’s electorate. Now, as information from the election is further dissected and analyzed, it’s becoming increasingly clear that something significant has indeed shifted in the religious outlook of our voting public. The Public Religion Research Institute calls it the “end of a white Christian strategy.”

Romney and Obama Coalitions vs Age Groups

Romney and Obama Coalitions vs Age Groups

“The foundation of Romney’s base consists primarily of white evangelical Protestants, who constitute 40% of his coalition. Obama’s coalition rests on two very different groups: minority Christians—a group that includes black, Asian, Hispanic, and mixed-race Christians—(31%) and the religiously unaffiliated (25%). [...] Notably, Obama’s religious coalition resembles the religious composition of younger voters, while Romney’s religious coalition resembles the religious composition of senior voters. For example, 26% of Millennial voters are white Christians, compared to 72% of senior voters.”

The unaffiliated were a big chunk of Obama’s religious support, and a whopping 70% of “nones” and 74% of “others” (which would include us Pagans) voted for the President. For all the analysis focused on race or gender during this election, it’s become clear that it is also disastrous for any candidate to so completely alienate non-Christian voters (it should be noted that Obama also garnered nearly 70% of the Jewish vote as well, despite efforts to undermine that support).  The more pluralistic and religiously diverse American becomes, the harder it will be to ignore non-Christian voices.

Sifting through the results from November can start to see the realignments. Hawaii sends the first Buddhist, Mazie Hirono, to the US Senate, and the first Hindu, Tulsi Gabbard, to the House. Washington state approved gay marriage by referendum, an initiative that I paid particular attention to because it would be decided by the religiously unaffiliated majority there. In that piece from September I said that: “it’s Washington that I’m most interested in because of the trends that point to the “nones” in the Pacific Northwest being more like “us” Pagans in inclination and spiritual orientation. If you want tea leaves to read over what a “Pagan” vote might look like, this might be our chance to witness it in action.” 

I think we’re going to see a lot more elections that look like this one. That doesn’t mean that Democrats automatically win all the time, or that Republicans are always doomed to lose, just that the playing field will never again be like it was in the 1980s or 1990s. The slowly shifting demographics have started to turn a corner, and savvy politicians, no matter what their political orientation, will adapt to these emerging realities. Yes, that means reaching out to racial minorities, and women, and younger voters, but it also means reaching out to the “nones” and the religious “others” instead of banking everything on the evangelical Christian vote (or the Catholic vote for that matter).

Welcome to the beginning of the post-Christian American future.

That wraps up our top ten news stories about or affecting modern Paganism in 2012. Thanks for reading, and I hope you’ll join us for another year of sifting through the news and views of interest to our communities. See you in 2013!

Last night, aside from a few hold-outs, a prevailing consensus formed about the election that won President Barack Obama a second term, and kept the Senate in Democratic control despite unfavorable odds: America’s demographics have shifted.

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President Barack Obama hugs wife Michelle on learning that he was re-elected for a second term in office.

“The white establishment is now the minority,” Bill O’Reilly, one of the network’s most famous personalities, said earlier this evening. “The demographics are changing: It’s not a traditional America anymore.” Minutes later, former Gov. Mike Huckabee would slam his own party for failing to reach out to non-white voters. “I think Republicans have done a pathetic job of reaching out to people of color,” Huckabee said during an appearance on Fox. “That’s something we’ve got to work on. It’s a group of people that frankly should be with us based on the real policy of conservatism.”

But the erosion of “traditional” America wasn’t simply about fewer white voters, it was also about women, and younger voters, who defied the ever-popular notion that they are politically apathetic. It was also about shifting religious demographics too.

“Romney has been winning in battleground states among white evangelicals, white Catholics, and weekly churchgoers. But it wasn’t enough to give him a victory. In Pennsylvania, for example, while Romney won white Catholics and white Protestants, Obama won among Catholics as a whole, the unaffiliated, and non-white voters. [...] A recent Pew survey found that there are now equal numbers of white evangelicals and unaffiliated voters, and a Public Religion Research Institute poll found similar results. I noted at the time of the PRRI survey that the bulk of Romney’s base was coming from white conservative evangelicals, mainline Protestants, and Catholics, while Obama’s ‘support comes from a more diverse group: 23% from the unaffiliated, 18% from black Protestants, 15% from white mainline Protestants, 14% from white Catholics, 8% from Latino Catholics, and 7% from non-Christians. Romney draws just 3% of his base from Latino Catholics, 2% from non-Christians, and an unmeasurable portion from black Protestants.’”

Did you catch that? The religiously unaffiliated are about the same size as white evangelicals, the demographic that politicians from both parties have wooed for decades now. During the run-up to the election I noted that both parties need to do a better job in reaching out to the very real pluralism and diversity that is religion in the United States.

“The problem is that both parties have been slow to embrace real pluralism and religious diversity in their one prime-time 3-day infomercial to the American people (and in certain senses, the world). This may not be a problem for this election cycle, but it is increasingly going to be an issue as that slow demographic shift keeps on shifting, and more states start to be evenly divided between Christians on one side, with “nones” and “others” on the other. The “unchurched” (non-Christian) vote is going to be a real thing in the years to come, and we’re a frustratingly diverse demographic. Asian-Americans are a key growth point for non-Abrahamic religions across the country, while a whopping 12% of state residents are adherents of a New Age, Pagan, or esoteric faiths in Colorado, with another 20% fitting into the “none” category. These are growing populations that can’t be ignored forever.”

The unaffiliated were a big chunk of Obama’s religious support, and a whopping 70% of “nones” and 74% of “others” (which would include us Pagans) voted for the President last night. For all the analysis focused on race or gender last night, it’s also disastrous for any candidate to so completely alienate non-Christian voters (it should be noted that Obama also garnered nearly 70% of the Jewish vote as well, despite efforts to undermine that support).  The more pluralistic and religiously diverse American becomes, the harder it will be to ignore non-Christian voices.

Sifting through the results from last night you can start to see the realignments. Hawaii sends the first Buddhist, Mazie Hirono, to the US Senate, and the first Hindu, Tulsi Gabbard, to the House.

TulsiMazie

Tulsi Gabbard & Mazie Hirono of Hawaii.

“Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI), a practicing Hindu of the Vaishnava tradition, campaigned on her experience as a former Honolulu City Councilwoman and Iraq war veteran. Her landslide win was expected after she became the Democratic party’s candidate following a primary victory in the state’s second district in July. She replaces Mazie Hirono, a Buddhist, who subsequently won Hawaii’s vacant Senate seat.  ”Gabbard is an incredibly inspiring leader whose political rise is a testament to the greatest ideals of American pluralism,” said Aseem Shukla, co-founder and Board member of HAF.”Hindu American Foundation (HAF)

Meanwhile, New York’s 6th Congressional District was handily won by Democrat Grace Meng, beating out Dan Halloran, a conservative Republican, Tea Party politician, and Heathen.  While Halloran, himself a non-Christian, didn’t have an issue reaching out to non-Christians per se, he had an uphill demographic climb in the Democratic-leaning district, one where Asian Americans are increasingly seen as vital if you want to win (a demographic that accounts for much of the growth in non-Christian faiths in America). Meng becomes the first Asian-American to be elected to Congress from New York. The Halloran-Meng face-off itself is something of a harbinger of the future, where racial and religious minorities are a given in both parties, with both vying for votes in an ever-diverse electorate.

Last night was also a historic night for same-sex marriage rights.  Maine and Maryland both legalized same-sex marriage by popular vote, reversing an ongoing electoral trend that favored social conservatives. Now, this morning, it looks like Washington will join them, a race decided by the religiously unaffiliated majority in that state.

“When I wrote my initial piece, I asserted that “if Cascadian nones are truly the New Age, nature religion, do-it-yourselfers that researchers assert, then this could be a preview for what a truly post-Christian pluralistic political struggle will look like.” So, with the clock ticking down on the November elections, where do we stand on this ballot initiative that would potentially stop gay marriage in Washington state?  A September 10th poll says that 56% of Washington voters support upholding legal same-sex marriage in their state, while only  38% favor eliminating equal marriage rights, 6% are undecided. This is remarkable data, even in a traditionally “liberal” state like Washington, as voter referendums on same-sex marriage have always favored limiting legal marriage rights to opposite sex couples.”

In that piece from September I said that: “it’s Washington that I’m most interested in because of the trends that point to the “nones” in the Pacific Northwest being more like “us” Pagans in inclination and spiritual orientation. If you want tea leaves to read over what a “Pagan” vote might look like, this might be our chance to witness it in action.” If you also factor in the vote to legalize marijuana, and the general “blue” trends in that state, I think my analysis holds up.

The good news didn’t end there. Minnesota also rejected a constitutional amendment that would have banned gay marriage, a ballot strategy that has always worked for anti-gay groups in the past. For the many Pagans who affirm and bless same-sex unions this is a big step torward ending the hegemony of Christian morality dominating the conversation on issues like this.

There are many other instances I can pull up here, Colorado going blue (and legalizing pot), the influx of women senators, the overreach of social (Christian) conservatives, but I’ll simply end with this point: I think we’re going to see a lot more elections that look like this one. That doesn’t mean that Democrats automatically win all the time, or that Republicans are always doomed to lose, just that the playing field will never again be like it was in the 1980s or 1990s. The slowly shifting demographics have started to turn a corner, and savvy politicians, no matter what their political orientation, will adapt to these emerging realities. Yes, that means reaching out to racial minorities, and women, and younger voters, but it also means reaching out to the “nones” and the religious “others” instead of banking everything on the evangelical Christian vote (or the Catholic vote for that matter).

Welcome to the beginning of the post-Christian American future.

It’s election day here in the United States, and most Americans are glued to their news sources of choice to see who will guide this nation for the next four years. In addition, control of our Senate, and the outcome of several local ballot initiatives will decided this day, making for an exciting evening for those invested in our democratic republic. Many American Pagans, like every other group in this country, also find themselves deeply invested in our political process if my Facebook wall is any indicator, and so they should, as the very notions of democracy, of a republic, originated in pagan thought, in pre-Christian societies.  Thomas Jefferson, a key architect of America’s religious freedoms, was proud that our country, in principle, encompassed “the Jew and the Gentile, the Christian and Mahometan, the Hindoo, and Infidel of every denomination.” 

So on this election day, as we wait for the results to roll in, let’s focus on some electoral/election stories of interest to, or involving, modern Pagans.

Selena Fox of Circle Sanctuary, shortly after voting this morning in Wisconsin.

Selena Fox of Circle Sanctuary, shortly after voting this morning in Wisconsin.

  • The ever-politically active Starhawk shares some final thoughts on the election, making her endorsements, but also stressing the importance of voting in general. Quote: “Still need inspiration?  Consider the sixty years women struggled to get the right to vote.  Think of those suffragists on hunger strike, force-fed through tubes, lying in rat-infested prisons—they want you to vote!  Think of the civil rights workers in the South, risking their lives to register voters, think of the three who were murdered in 1964, Shwerner, Chaney and Goodman.  They want you to vote!”
  • A Witch-Doctor from the Kenyan village where Barack Obama’s father is buried says his reading predicts our current president will win in a landslide. Quote: “Mr Dimo, who claims to be 105, says that the mystical items dispute news that the election will be a close call.  Pointing to a white shell, he declared: ‘Obama is very far ahead and is definitely going to win.’” I’m sure Nate Silver won’t argue too much with that prediction.
  • AlterNet digs up some rather embarrassing assertions from Republican Massachusetts State Senate candidate  Sandi Martinez, including how popular children’s shows of the 1980s will turn you towards Witchcraft. Quote: “On her cable access show in 2004, Martinez warned that trick-or-treating, Harry Potter books, and the “new age images” presented in 1980s-era programming such as “The Smurfs” and “The Care Bears” could destigmatize the occult and leave children vulnerable to the lure of witchcraft.” Awesome. Well, good thing there aren’t any Witches in Massachusetts … oh, wait.
  • An activist is trying to engage the Buddhist-derived mindfulness movement in politics, and voting. Quote: “If meditation can calm hyperactive kids, ease the pain of drug addicts and tame the egos of Fortune 500 CEOs, it can surely help a stressed-out and polarized country choose a president, says the Rev. Angel Kyodo Williams. An artist and veteran activist from Berkeley, Williams is the force behind MindfulVOTES, a nonpartisan campaign that she believes is the first attempt to mobilize mindfulness meditators.” Here’s the MindfulVOTES website.
  • It looks very likely that Tulsi Gabbard, the Democrat running for Congress in Hawaii’s 2nd district, will win her race and become the first Hindu to serve in the United States Congress. Quote: “It is clear that there needs to be a closer working relationship between the United States and India. How can we have a close relationship if decision-makers in Washington know very little, if anything, about the religious beliefs, values, and practices of India’s 800 million Hindus?” How exciting!
  • Meanwhile, you do know there’s a Heathen running for Congress this election, right? New York’s Dan Halloran, a conservative, Republican, Tea Party politician, is facing off against Grace Meng in the newly drawn 6th Congressional District. There hasn’t been too much non-partisan polling for this race, so each are holding up their internal polls to claim the race is will be won by their campaign. Odds are long for Halloran in this Democratic-leaning district, but who knows for sure? You can read my pretty extensive coverage of Dan Halloran here.
  • Let’s not forget the same sex marriage-related initiatives being voted on today, and the role “nones” might play in how those races turn out. However, Saumya Arya Haas, a Hindu and Vodou priestess, reminds us that nobodies vote on gay marriage should matter. Quote: “American is not a religion; it is a nation. We claim to hold certain truths to be self-evident. That means some truths should be a given — not debated, not voted on. Given. By virtue of being a citizen of this country, each American should have access to the same rights. Instead, we have created, in America, in the year 2012, a priestly caste of people who believe that their interpretation of certain Scriptures should be used to decide others’ fate.”
  • Americans United is fed up with the IRS not enforcing the ban on partisan endorsements from the pulpit, exclaiming “enforce the law already!” Quote: “This is a critically important issue for our democracy. We already have serious problems with vast amounts of money being dropped into campaigns. Imagine how much more devastating it would be if every house of worship jumped into elections, too.”
  • Finally, Jason Mankey over at Patheos reminds everyone that voting is “ours.” Quote: “Voting is one of the great legacies of ancient paganism. All democracies have a bit of classical paganism in their DNA, even when they don’t want to admit it. Want to make your Evangelical uncle’s head explode today? Remind him that democracy began in a town dedicated to the Goddess Athena! Democracy and the vote are our legacy as Pagans!”

No matter who you vote for, don’t forget to vote, and honor the struggles, and origins, of our political system. We’ll check in post-Election Day to what the results might mean for modern Pagans.

Oh, and yes, I already voted. Oregon has a mail-in system that’s quite convenient.

While the two major political parties garner the lion’s share of press and attention, third party candidates for President of the United Sates often struggle to garner attention, equal treatment, and the votes of individuals dissatisfied with the status quo. Many modern Pagans, already predisposed towards questioning the dominant narratives in our culture, have flocked to the Green Party or the Libertarian Party depending on where they fall on various social, foreign policy, and economic issues. In 2008, around 8% of Pagans polled by Witchvox said they were going to vote for a third party, a number that may have been depressed by the Libertarian ticket running noted anti-Pagan activist Bob Barr. This election cycle, with many voters frustrated with the lack of forward movement on a number of issues, third party candidates could see increased numbers among frustrated demographics, religious minorities included.

PNC Managing Editor, Cara Schulz with Presidential candidate Gov. Gary Johnson

PNC Managing Editor, Cara Schulz with Presidential candidate Gov. Gary Johnson

One third party politician that has already made a very public splash with modern Pagans is Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson, who held a historic press conference with representatives of Pagan and Hindu organizations. When asked why he took the time to talk to religious minorities who have little sway over large voting blocs, Johnson said: “I am going to go out on a limb here and say that you are opinion makers. People look to you for your opinions because you take the time to be well informed.” Nor did Johnson backtrack when the mainstream press took notice, telling the Pagan Newswire Collective  that “there was no consternation within my campaign about any of the feedback that we got on that event. No consternation.” Because of this, Johnson has sparked the interest of many Libertarian-leaning Pagans, including the Pagan Newswire Collective’s Cara Schulz, who is acting as a volunteer coordinator for an upcoming speaking event at Macalester College in St. Paul, Minnesota. I quizzed Schulz about her support for Johnson, and why she’s throwing her support behind a third party candidate when the common wisdom often says such votes are “thrown away.”

“It’s considered conventional wisdom that if you vote for a Third Party you’re throwing your vote away.  I think we need to reconsider what throwing our vote away means.  We complain about how the two major political parties ignore Pagans at best and are hostile to us at worst, with a heavy sprinkling of mockery thrown in for the LULZ.  Yet we reward them by voting for them.  We need examine what a thrown away vote is. If you’re voting for someone who won’t have anything to do with you and won’t stand up for you when it’s politically chancy to do, isn’t that throwing away your vote?  I’ll be throwing away my vote for a candidate who doesn’t run away from the evil or silly Pagans and treats us with respect, like he treats any other citizen.  You can bet if he takes heat for having Pagans perform at his rally, like he took heat for the Pagan media townhall, he won’t care.”

Schulz added that “in Presidential elections I’ve voted Republican and Democrat.  Not this year.  In a video Johnson asks people to ‘be Libertarian with me for one election’ and that’s what I’m doing.” In addition to Schulz’s support, local band Murphey’s Midnight Rounders, made up entirely of Pagan singers and musicians, will be giving an opening performance . In an editorial posted to the PNC-Minnesota bureau, Brad Murphey of Murphey’s Midnight Rounders explains why he was willing to play at this event, and be seen as aligned with Johnson’s campaign.

“Why did I agree to play for the Gary Johnson Rally? Because Gary Johnson is speaking to needs and changes that affect Pagans and sub-cultures that are related to it. Because the more we stand up and address those needed changes, the more will get done. Because it’s time for us all to get up off the couch and stop barking at the TV. Murphey’s Midnight Rounders is not a Pagan Band, per se. We are a Folk Band (we like to call it ‘Power Folk’). Our music addresses what we feel and who we are. At the same time, all of us in the band are Pagan, so a big percentage of our music speaks to that subject: honoring Deity, tradition, and approaching the goddess with mirth and reverence. That being said, for a band that is all Pagan and sings about Pagan issues, it was an honor to be asked to sing at a rally for a presidential candidate. It says a lot about him, that, as a candidate, he is more open and supportive of the Pagan religions.”

Murphey also noted how he things Pagan ideals and Libertarian ideals align, saying that We, as Pagans, tend to profess acceptance (or at least tolerance) of individuality and lifestyles that we may not subscribe to” and “Paganism tends to embrace and defend many sub-cultures that have been marginalized by (dare I say it?) mainstream thought.” There has long been a trend toward small-l libertarian values among more conservative Pagans, many of whom are uninterested in fighting the Christian-fueled “culture wars,” but are interested in fiscally conservative ideas and a less interventionist foreign policy. Indeed, Republican New York congressional candidate Dan Halloran, now well-known for his Heathen faith, is also seeking to run on the Libertarian ticket, a gambit that benefited him when he won a seat on New York’s City Council.

Just as the Green Party has drawn progressives unhappy with the Democratic Party, the Libertarian Party seems to be a haven for conservatives that couldn’t find room inside the Republican Party’s “big tent.” These ”Ron Paul Republicans” are finding Johnson to be an alternative who speaks to their values.

“[State representative candidate Kevin] Kervick, a Republican, publicly endorsed Johnson on Wednesday, saying he thinks the country is “broken,” and he doesn’t see the national Republican or Democratic parties doing anything to fix it. He said he still supports Republican candidates for governor and other state offices, but can’t bring himself to endorse Romney.”

For many, including Schulz, Johnson is the inclusive, socially “cool,” conservative voice they have been waiting for.

“There were no questions about religion and there never is with the Johnson campaign.  They don’t care about your religion or how your religion reflects on them, they care about how well you can do your job.”

For those in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area, the Johnson event starts tomorrow (Friday) at 12:30 CDT. Organized by the Macalester Young Americans for Liberty. You can get the details, here.

[This article is the first in a series exploring how modern Pagans are interacting with the presidential race. Are you a Pagan who is volunteering with the Democratic, Republican, or Green Party? Drop me a line, and you may be quoted in a future installment!]

Right now the United States is immersed in a flurry of political wrangling, our two major parties wrapping up, or about to begin, major conventions that they hope will sell their candidate to an increasingly disaffected electorate. For those of us who exist on the margins of America’s tapestry of faith and religion, it can seem doubly alienating. A celebration of what we are not.

Certainly there have been inroads, the Republican National Convention invited a Sikh to give an opening invocation (albeit one you could only see on C-SPAN), and the Democratic National Convention has enshrined marriage equality in their national platform, but for the most part these events are exercises in affirming a certain bland, comfortable, (mostly) non-controversial all-American idiom (from different political lenses, to be sure). They are not, despite what activists from both sides desire, moments that dare confront or change the status quo. No one will be forced to confront, as Brian Jay Stanley was, their own prejudices or assumptions.

“Before college I was a skeptic and rationalist toward every religion except my own, Christianity. Like most of humanity, I had believed the religion I’d heard first, and on its authority dismissed all the religions I’d heard second. Seeing Muslims wearing turbans or Hindus bindis, I thought the oddity of their customs proved the error of their beliefs. Studying all faiths in one class in college, however, I saw my religion from the outside and realized that the rites of my Sundays — warbling choirs and smocked babies dipped in silver fonts and bread as the body of Christ — were as curious as what I had disparaged as myths. In class discussions I sometimes unwittingly revealed assumptions that I thought were axioms, and would read surprise in the eyes of a Hare Krishna or Bahai. My notion of normal was an accident of my birth and upbringing. Whomever I saw as strange saw me as strange. I had raised a doubtful brow at Buddhists bowing to golden statues, even as I prayed weekly to a crucified first-century Jew, not realizing that either all religions are bizarre or none is.”

As Jeffrey Weiss at RealClearReligion notes, the slow demographic shift away from institutional faiths, the rise of “nones,” those claiming to particular religion, have yet to be eagerly courted by either party, particularly the Republicans.

“Where religion came up in Tampa last week, at least among the best-known and prime-time speakers, it was mostly in reference to a fairly specific notion of God. The speakers used language most familiar to a particular reading of Christianity. To be fair, much of the language would also have been familiar in the mid-1700s, as America’s founders crafted their exquisite balance of freedoms and responsibilities. But today, as many as one American in five belongs to the religious “Nones,” depending on the polls you read. That’s a huge leap from a couple of decades ago. And members of this group are far more likely to describe themselves as political independents than people who say they ascribe to any particular religion. They may have been more turned off than inspired by the way the Republicans wove religion and politics together.”

This isn’t a uniquely Republican problem, as the Democrats aren’t exactly eager to give non-Christians a prime-time voice. Both seek to keep Christians in their base, while hoping their policy stances will appeal to non-Christians who will overlook all the monotheistic God talk. Change, it seems, happens in frustratingly small increments. No one is forced to deal with people who don’t have the slightest similarity to us,” even within the “big tent” of our national parties, and that’s a shame. That said, CNN believes the Democratic convention will be less “faith-y” (ie less Christian) than four years ago, but it’s all speculation at this point.

Happening in the shadow of the “values voter” election of 2004, the 2008 Democratic convention was something of a faith fest, especially when it came to evangelicals. Convention roles went to the Rev. Joel Hunter, a megapastor from Florida, and best-selling Christian author Don Miller. This year, some religious activists are quietly wondering if the convention will come off as more secular. Hunter, who remains close to Obama, is skipping Charlotte. “There’s no reason for me to be there,” he told us. “My relationship with the president is pastoral and not political.”

Let me be clear, this is not a “both parties are the same” argument, I think there are clear and definable differences in policy between the Democrats and Republicans. I trust my readers are intelligent enough to discern where their interests lie in those matters, as The Wild Hunt doesn’t endorse candidates. However, both parties do have a “religion” problem, and it isn’t the problem of appealing to Christians of various inclinations.

The problem is that both parties have been slow to embrace real pluralism and religious diversity in their one prime-time 3-day infomercial to the American people (and in certain senses, the world). This may not be a problem for this election cycle, but it is increasingly going to be an issue as that slow demographic shift keeps on shifting, and more states start to be evenly divided between Christians on one side, with “nones” and “others” on the other. The “unchurched” (non-Christian) vote is going to be a real thing in the years to come, and we’re a frustratingly diverse demographic. Asian-Americans are a key growth point for non-Abrahamic religions across the country, while a whopping 12% of state residents are adherents of a New Age, Pagan, or esoteric faiths in Colorado, with another 20% fitting into the “none” category. These are growing populations that can’t be ignored forever.

Christian adherents as percentage of state population (2010).

Christian adherents as percentage of state population (2010).

Both parties need to embrace the “communion of strangers,” and realize that pluralism is the core value regarding religion in America. Both parties need to either embrace the full tapestry of faith in their conventions, or they need to stop pandering to religious groups entirely. That isn’t so strange a notion, as it wasn’t until our modern era that faith became so politicized that we injected it into the very fabric of partisan politics. Of course, it used to be a given that we were all Christians, and that all “others” lived here by our sufferance. Still, one direction or another needs to be taken, or the parties will soon find themselves catering to ever-smaller slices of the demographic pie until it will a case of change or die. My hope is that secularism can stop being a dirty word, and we can simply get down to the business of rationally hashing out our policy differences without invoking divine backing to bolster an argument. If not now, then soon.

On Wednesday, the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Florida did an admirable thing, they invited a Sikh to give an opening invocation. Ishwar Singh, who gave the invocation, is the president of the Sikh Society of Central Florida, and a small business owner. Singh expressed his hope that his inclusion, coming in the wake of the tragic mass shooting at a Sikh temple in Oak Creek, Wisconsin, will show “that we are one family.”

“I hope that my presence Wednesday on the national stage will play a small part in helping Sikhs  and people of all races, faiths and orientations  be seen as part of the great American family. We Sikhs draw strength from the nonpartisan support we have received in response to the terrible tragedy in Oak Creek. [...] After Wednesday, I hope that we will see more engagement and inclusion. I hope our elected officials will stand against hateful speech this election season. I hope that the government tracks hate crimes specifically against Sikhs and that Sikhs will be considered eligible to serve this country, as we have served so many others, in the police and armed forces.” 

This, as I mentioned, was an admirable move by the Republican Party, and they should be commended for it. Politics should be about policy, not about which God or gods we worship (which is why I’m so glad Rick Warren’s absurd religious-test forum collapsed this year). Sadly, elements of the Republican Party’s conservative Christian base, which are already uneasy with Mitt Romney’s Mormon faith, saw this expansive and empathetic act as a harbinger for societal collapse. Right Wing Watch notes that radio talk-show hater Janet Mefferd, who’s on constant alert for signs of the gay-pagan axis tainting her precious bodily fluids, saw this invocation as a sign the party was being (I kid you not) gassed with syncretism.

Janet Mefferd

Janet Mefferd: I’m fine with other faiths voting Republican, I’m just equating them with an invasive gas that’s making us syncretic.

“This adds new spin to my view of what’s going on at the RNC right now because you still hear a little bit of talk God here and there, but it’s different. When Mitt Romney talks about God, he’s not talking about our God and he has yet to give his speech yet. But we now have a party that is allowing people to pray at the Republican National Convention who don’t have the slightest similarity to us, when it comes to our view of God, at all. At all.

It wasn’t that long ago that Pat Buchanan at the 1992 RNC was talking about the great culture war and being a Judeo-Christian nation and how important it was to hold that all together because that was the foundation upon which our country was built. And he was right. He got skewered for it, but he was right.

And look how far we’ve come. Now, 2012 we have somebody from an Eastern religion offering the invocation at the Republican National Convention. I’m not saying people from different religions can’t vote Republican, but what this really is is a syncretism that is kind of seeping under the door like a gas.

Every time I write about Mefferd, I feel the need to point out that she’s not a fringe figure. Her syndicated radio program plays on over 110 affiliates in the United States, and often brings on big-name figures like Herman CainFranklin GrahamRick Perry, and Michele Bachmann. So this isn’t someone out-of-touch with the Republican mainstream. Her distaste with an “Eastern religion” being allowed an invocation is no doubt shared by many, but only echoed by those already comfortable with controversy. It’s an attitude that says, to paraphrase Mefferd, please vote Republican, but keep it to yourself if you’re not a Christian. A “God Closet” if you will.

What we are seeing here is a tension that will only grow within the Republican Party. No major party can afford to keep being seen as a Christians-only party as religious demographics continue to shift. It may work for now, but eventually you’re going to see districts start to slip from your grasp as non-Christian and non-religious populations grow. In some states Christianity is already being seriously challenged by “unchurched” and “non-religious” voters. The longer you rely on a base that fears and distrusts non-Christian faiths, the more alienated growing populations of Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Muslims, and Pagans will become. Eventually a realignment will have to happen, and the Janet Mefferds will have to be marginalized to allow for a “big tent” conservatism that casts aside Christian prejudices and fears. Otherwise, you’ll eventually be forced into schism with a Christian rump clinging to its ideals of party purity. It will make the Ron Paul unrest of this week seem quaint.

The truth is that non-Christians have been “seeping under the door” for generations, it’s just that we can no longer ignore them, their issues, and their desires. We don’t live in a monoculture where it’s acceptable to ignore voices or views that “don’t fit.” The RNC organizers who invited Ishwar Singh know that, and his invocation may truthfully be a important moment in the Republican Party if they fulfill Sing’s wish that “our children and grandchildren will be permitted to be full and equal members of this great American family.”

“We represent the rise of something Christian leaders thought they had vanquished long ago, and we should never forget that initial vanquishing involved the sword far more than persuasion.”Gus diZerega

At the beginning of this year influential conservative evangelical Christian, and former presidential candidate, Gary Bauer engaged in a “thought experiment” for USA Today. The conclusion of this experiment was that voters should  ”support policies that align with their values,”except in once instance.

I wouldn’t vote for a pagan, I’d vote for a Catholic or a Jew whose policies reflect the traditional understanding of marriage and defend the sanctity of human life much more readily than I would vote for the man next to me in the pew who doesn’t support those things.”

In short, political expediency is all well and good to further conservative causes, but there is a theological line in the sand, and if you’re a Christian that line is drawn at polytheism. This isn’t normally a problem for Republicans, who since the Reagan era have tended to nominate socially conservative Christians for office. But the Republican presidential candidate for 2012 is Mitt Romney, and Mr. Romney is a Mormon, something that makes a certain segment of the Republican base very uneasy.

“That is a mainstream view, that Mormonism is a cult,”  [Pastor Robert Jeffress] told reporters here. “Every true, born again follower of Christ ought to embrace a Christian over a non-Christian.”

Romney is no fool, he knows a number of evangelical Christians are wary, at best, of his faith, and he’s tried his best to reassure them that his social agenda lines up with theirs. However, as Bible scholar Ben Witherington recently pointed out, a big sticking point is the matter of polytheism.

Mormons are polytheists, not monotheists. [emphasis mine] That is, they believe that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are three separate beings, thus denying the essential monotheistic statements of both the OT and NT that God is One. [...] Mormons believe that even God the Father has, and apparently, needs a body, denying that God in the divine nature is spirit. Indeed they believe that God the Father is an exalted man! [...] The goal of Mormon soteriology is that we all become as ‘gods’ become both immortal and divine, blurring the creator/creature distinction which was already badly blurred by a theology that suggested that God is actually a sort of uber-human being, with less flaws. One rather familiar teaching is ‘as God was, so we are. As God is, so we shall be’.”

In explaining why he wrote this post now, Witherington explained that he didn’t want Christians to have “false assumptions” going to the ballot box about who they were voting for. In short, if you vote for Romney, you are voting for a polytheist, not a Christian monotheist. Luckily for Romney, conservative Christians have been working to delegitimize President Obama’s Christian faith for years now, so that the choice is between a fake/un-biblical Christian vs. a polytheist Mormon who lines up with conservative social teachings. Pastor Robert Jeffress, quoted above, revealed as much after he caused controversy with his “Mormonism is a cult” statements.

 “I’m going to instruct, I’m going to advise people that it is much better to vote for a non-Christian who embraces biblical values than to vote for a professing Christian like Barack Obama who embraces un-biblical values.”

What’s interesting about this whole issue is that it tests the waters for the day when a truly non-Christian candidate runs for president of the United States. You’d hardly have to change the above quotes if a Hindu, Buddhist, or even a Pagan, someday managed to overcome the massive structural and cultural impediments to non-Christians in our political system and managed to receive a major party’s nomination. It is only thanks to a massive amount of PR work on the part of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints that America is as comfortable with Mormonism as it is, but even that can’t stop some Mormon candidates from flaming out when they try to reach the heights Romeny has. This is mainly due to the fact that a important part of the Republican party’s base are conservative Christians who are reluctant (to put it nicely) to vote for what they perceive as a non-Christian.

Despite the fact that our very origins as a nation are very “pagan,” many in the United States aren’t ready to elect non-Christians to high office, instinctively assuming that Christians are more moral, giving, or “normal.” This will change over time, but not before many men and women will have to run a gauntlet defending their personal beliefs in a very public manner. Polytheism, the belief in  many gods, makes certain Christians very uneasy because we represent a specter thought long defeated. We are supposed to be the boogie men slaughtered on Mount Carmel, never to return, powerless in the face of true Christianity. We aren’t supposed to be thriving, running for office, or even making demands for fair and equal treatment. We’re simply not supposed to exist.

Romney’s ascendancy creates a tension for the evangelical power-players, because they know they have to support him, and they also know many of their supporters simply won’t , often because they themselves labeled his religion a cult. However, terms like “polytheism”, and “cult”, are going to keep losing their impact as we move into a post-Christian era, and eventually electing a Mormon, or a Hindu, or a Buddhist, or a Wiccan, will be based on their policies and stances, not their theology. Until then, Christians are going to have to wrestle with Mormon “polytheism” at the polls come November.

Saddleback Church’s evangelical mega-pastor Rick Warren has announced that he’ll be holding another presidential forum, just as he famously did in 2008 with Barack Obama and John McCain. While nothing is confirmed yet, it is tentatively scheduled for the end of August and will supposedly work “to promote social civility so that people with major disagreements (can) talk without beating each other up.” However, neither President Obama nor Republican challenger Mitt Romney should be fooled, this is an exercise in conservative Christian power, a religious litmus test in all but name.

John McCain, Rick Warren, and Barack Obama.

John McCain, Rick Warren, and Barack Obama.

Obama should consider that Warren either lied about his plans for the 2008 forum or bowed to pressure from other conservatives regarding the topics up for discussion. In the week before the earlier event, Warren told TIME’s David van Biema that his questions would center on four areas: poverty, HIV/AIDS, climate change, and human rights. “There is no Christian religious test,” said Warren. The night of forum, however, Warren stuck to a more conservative script, quizzing the candidates about gay marriage, judges, and abortion—and only briefly touching on poverty and climate change. As one progressive religious leader told me at the time: “They hadn’t done their research on Warren. Obama wasn’t prepared for the Saddleback thing at all, and Warren bushwhacked him.”

Pastor Rick Warren has an entirely undeserved reputation as a “moderate” evangelical Christian because has no trouble being courted by Democrats, or signing toothless global warming documents. In truth, the man who has sold countless “Purpose Driven Life” books is lock-step with the evangelical mainstream on almost all social and theological issues. He’s for banning same-sex marriage, doesn’t believe in evolution, and only spoke out against draconian anti-gay legislation in Uganda (he had ties to one of the bill’s supporters) after immense public pressure. The only real difference between Warren and many other figures within the realm of conservative Christianity is his genial self-help-book-writer tone. In short, this is not a man I’d trust to explore alone the serious moral and ethical questions inherent to the world’s more powerful job, because there’s only one moral and ethical standard he’s truly capable of understanding.

“Some of the questions Pastor Warren posed crossed the line and promoted the fiction that the American people are electing a pastor-in-chief, rather than a commander-in-chief. Questions like ‘What does it mean to trust in Christ?’ create a religious test for public office and should have no place in the political discourse for a secular office. America is the most religiously diverse country in the world, and Christianity is only one of those faith traditions. Millions of voters who tuned in tonight will feel disenfranchised by some of the questions posed in this forum.” - Rev. C. Welton Gaddy, president of Interfaith Alliance

Around 20% of Americans fall outside the accepted boundaries of the Abrahamic traditions (Jews, Christians, and Muslims) entirely. If we’re talking just non-Christians, then the number is about 22%. Around 18% of American Christians belong to (generally more liberal) Mainline Protestant Churches. Catholics claim  24% of the population. Evangelical Christians make up around 26% of religious adherents in the United States, the largest faith grouping in America, but does their size justify the prominence of place they seem to now inhabit in national politics? The margins are small enough that it seems like folly to think that the moral concerns of an evangelical pastor will line up with a the concerns of all the other groups. It’s more a testament to the organizing power of conservative protestants, than a true reflection of their demographic weight or cultural influence.

The reason Obama and Romney are so eager to engage in what is a de facto religious test for office is that each want to convince different parts of American evangelical culture to vote for them. Obama wants the “small but significant chunks of white evangelical voters” that helped propel to the White House in 2008 to do so again (an uphill climb considering his evolution on the issue of same-sex marriage). Romney, meanwhile, will try convince still-skeptical evangelicals that he lines up with their moral values, despite belonging to a “false religion” (Mormonism). Both will emphasize their commitment to Christ, and Christian values. All of which is great, if you’re an evangelical Christian. You get two hours of presidential candidates making the case directly to you that they support, or at least respect, your moral universe. For everyone else, from liberal Christians to Hindus, you’re reminded that your vote, and the issues you’re most concerned about, aren’t quite as important.

When voters are indirectly told that one kind of religion, or even one kind of Christianity, is the one that gets catered to on the national stage, the one that needs to be wooed, we enter dangerous ground. We are told subtle lies about what’s foundational in our nation, that we were not built on Enlightenment values with a commitment to secular pluralism, but that instead we are a “Christian Nation” and all non-Christians (or Christians who aren’t the right kind of Christians) exist here by either a quirk of fate, the erosion of values, or the sufferance of the not-so-silent majority. It says that on matters of faith, presidents are accountable to the Rick Warren’s of this world, not to the “others” (or “nones”). This creates a narrative where morality is debated only within a spectrum acceptable to the most politically powerful faiths, where pundits can say straight-faced what “religious” people believe about an issue while really only talking to one subset of Christianity.

When you factor in the vast amount of theological (and political) diversity in the world’s religions, from indigenous traditions to pacifist Quakers, the amount of room between, say, “religious left” titan Jim Wallis and Rev. Dennis “non-Christians get out” Terry, starts to seem pretty arbitrary to those outside the halls of power looking in. It’s “lefty” Jesus vs. “righty” Jesus, but guess what, one acceptable face or another of Christian power always wins. This isn’t just bad for non-Christians, it’s bad for authentic Christianity as well. Jefferson was smart enough to know that religious wars could tear our nation apart should we appear to favor one over another, so he smartly built a “wall of separation” to avoid the problem.

Perhaps there was a time when it was acceptable, even necessary, for our nation to use Christianity as a source of unity, but if that time truly existed it has long since past. We live in a age where American diversity isn’t just a slogan, it’s real, and religious pluralism is happening in the atomic structure of our society every day whether we want it or not. Allowing Rick Warren to be our nation’s religious moderator is a bad idea, one that both candidates should reject. I can’t imagine that John F. Kennedy, our nation’s first Catholic president, would have participated in this religious test disguised as a forum.

“I would not look with favor upon a president working to subvert the First Amendment’s guarantees of religious liberty. Nor would our system of checks and balances permit him to do so. And neither do I look with favor upon those who would work to subvert Article VI of the Constitution by requiring a religious test — even by indirection — for it. If they disagree with that safeguard, they should be out openly working to repeal it. I want a chief executive whose public acts are responsible to all groups and obligated to none; who can attend any ceremony, service or dinner his office may appropriately require of him; and whose fulfillment of his presidential oath is not limited or conditioned by any religious oath, ritual or obligation.”

“Even by indirection,” which I argue includes a forum supposedly about moral issues, but asks questions about trusting Christ, a topic immaterial to every non-Christian voter. We have allowed this to happen, we have allowed one group to set the rules of engagement in the public sphere when it comes to faith and morality. Conservative evangelicals have been masterful in becoming political power players in the span of a generation, and the rest of us have been busy playing defense. This has to end, and the best place to start would be for Obama and Romney to tell Rick Warren “no.” Failing that, American people of all faiths need to reengage with our political process, no matter what their party or ideology, so that we can embrace the pluralistic promise of our nation, and put an end to litmus tests in all but name.

ADDENDUM: Obama campaign officials have stated that there will be no joint pre-debate appearances, so it looks like Warren was a bit premature to imply that both campaigns had agreed to appear.

It hasn’t been a very good week for Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign. The presumptive Republican nominee has been dealing with the revelations of “troubling incidents” related to bullying gay classmates in the same week that the president gave his support for same-sex marriage rights. Now, in what can only be called unfortunate timing, Romney will be giving the commencement speech today at Liberty University, the school founded by televangelist Jerry Falwell.

Mitt Romney

Mitt Romney

“Whatever the exact explanation, Romney and his team clearly do not feel that they can take the support and – maybe more importantly – the enthusiasm of evangelicals for granted the way most previous Republican nominees could. This could severely complicate Romney’s efforts to separate himself from what to general election swing voters are some of the most unappealing aspects of the modern Republican Party. Any position he takes or utterance he makes that puts him at odds with the Christian right threatens to prompt a loud uproar from evangelical leaders. How much slack (if any) they’re willing to cut Romney in the name of general election expediency is unclear at this point.”

All eyes will be on Romney to see if he can solidify support among conservative Evangelical Christians, a group that has been reluctant to admit he’s Christian at all due to his Mormon faith. While Romney has tentatively tried to stand up for his religion, a full-throated defense of the rights of religious minorities in this country has yet to emerge. Anyone expecting a “Sister Souljah moment” will no doubt be disappointed, Romney needs Liberty University and the forces it represents on his side, and that means overlooking its unfortunate, hurtful, retrograde, beliefs. Those beliefs include fighting against “homosexual propaganda,” and, naturally, a virulently anti-Pagan ethos. It is an ethos that goes far beyond the late Falwell’s infamous 9/11 comments.

“I really believe that the pagans, and the abortionists, and the feminists, and the gays and the lesbians who are actively trying to make that an alternative lifestyle, the ACLU, People For the American Way–all of them who have tried to secularize America–I point the finger in their face and say “you helped [the 9/11 terrorist attacks] happen.”

According to Right Wing Watch, school policy itself reserves the harshest of punishments for Liberty students who might engage in a Pagan or esoteric practices.

30 Reprimands + $500.00 Fine + 30 hours Disciplinary Community Service + possible Administrative Withdrawal. [...] Involvement with witchcraft, séances or other satanic or demonic activity.

It should be pointed out that “involvement with witchcraft” is placed in the same category as rape, committing a felony crime, unauthorized weaponry, and selling drugs. As a private university, LU certainly has the right to make any rules it wants for its students, including the banning of “demonic activity,” but it should also make us ask what that means when individuals who want to run the United States pander to them.  Frankly, any national politician who seeks the imprimatur of Liberty University needs to immediately clarify their stance on pluralism in our country.

To reiterate what I’ve said before, the seeming impossibility of Mitt Romney standing up for religious minorities saddens me.  If the eventual Republican party nominee can’t say “this is a nation where all faiths are allowed to the table, and protected by our Constitution” then something is fundamentally broken.  I’m not expecting any Republican to suddenly embrace Wiccans, or to showcase Dan Halloran at a campaign stop, but I am expecting a basic adherence to the notion that people of all religions are included and protected in our great democratic experiment.

Perhaps we truly are entering a “Libertarian moment” in 2012, and fiscally conservative/socially liberal Pagans alienated by the prominence of conservative Christianity will flock to former New Mexico governor Gary Johnson, the Libertarian Party nominee, who expressed no consternation within my campaign” when it comes to taking modern Pagans seriously in our electorate. That may not worry Mitt Romney, but is should worry Republicans who want to thrive in an increasingly post-Christian world. Eventually all those “others,” agnostics, and “nones” will add up to the margin of victory.

There are lots of articles and essays of interest to modern Pagans out there, sometimes more than I can write about in-depth in any given week. So The Wild Hunt must unleash the hounds in order to round them all up.

Torch lighting ceremony in Greece. (Associated Press)

Torch lighting ceremony in Greece. (Associated Press)

- The Olympic flame for the 2012 London games was lit yesterday at the Temple of Hera in Greece, though it did go out briefly during the ceremony. Luckily there was a back-up flame, and the torch started on its week-long journey around Greece. Once in Britain it will make a 70-day circuit in the lead-up to the Olympics. Despite the pageantry, some aren’t impressed, while others made snarky jokes about the flame going out. Still, it’s always nice to see echoes, reminders, that the Olympics are a pagan invention. Created to honor Zeus.

- In a historic first yesterday, Galina Krasskova, a Heathen, gave the opening prayer at a conference on women and indigeny being held at the United Nations. The first Heathen to ever do so. You can find the text of her opening ancestor prayer, here. I could be wrong, but I believe this conference was part of the larger 11th Session of the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues (UNPFII), which I mentioned earlier. Congratulations to Galina on this achievement!

- Andrew Brown at The Guardian interviews an unnamed hip vicar who is allegedly dating a Witch, and opines on how to get the post-Christian generation back in the Anglican pews. Quote: “He said the only way was to go straight for the most improbable part of the story. If you’re teaching the virgin birth, point out at once that there were many virgin birth stories around at the time. Caesar Augustus himself was meant to have been the child of a God. So what was different about a God who chose a poor Jewish girl and not a princess for his bride? What changed if the Christian story were true and not the official one?” So, there you go? I guess?

- Congratulations to everyone’s favorite German Catholic mystic, Hildegard of Bingen, now St. Hildegard of Bingen thanks to Pope Benedict and the Catholic Church. Though, a Catholic blogger points out she was already a de facto saint for years. In any case, here’s to the “Sybil of the Rhine.”

- The Epoch Times profiles New York City Councilman, and congressional candidate, Dan Halloran. Not a single peep about his religion, in any context. Luckily, The Wild Hunt spends plenty of time on the subject.

PNC Managing Editor, Cara Schulz with Presidential candidate Gov. Gary Johnson

PNC Managing Editor, Cara Schulz with Presidential candidate Gov. Gary Johnson

- Speaking of politics, former New Mexico governor Gary Johnson recently won the Libertarian Party’s nomination for president. He’s gotten quite a bit of media attention recently, with many wondering if this will be a breakout year for the Libertarians. Pagan Newswire Collective Managing Editor Cara Schulz got to spend the day with Johnson not too long ago, and Schulz followed up with the candidate to see if he regretted courting our community’s vote during a virtual “town hall” session with representatives from Pagan and Hindu media. Quote: “There was no consternation within my campaign about any of the feedback that we got on that event. No consternation.” You can read all of my coverage of Johnson, here.

- An Australian paper reports on two horse killing in England, linking them to the occult, Satanism, and the recent “super moon.” Actual solid evidence for this theory? Zero.

- Peter Berger, writing for The American Interest, defends Andrew Bowen’s Project Conversion, which I’ve mentioned a few times previously here at The Wild Hunt. What I find most interesting about the article is his refutation of “secularization theory—the notion that modernity necessarily brings about a decline in religion.” Berger notes that it “should be replaced by a theory of plurality—a situation in which many religions co-exist and interact with each other.” Sign me up as a proponent of plurality theory.

- TheoFantastique interviews Noel Montague-Etienne Rarignac, author of “The Theology of Dracula: Reading the Book of Stoker as Sacred Text.” The book aims to reread “the horror classic as a Christian text, one that alchemizes Platonism, Gnosticism, Mariology and Christian resurrection in a tale that explores the grotesque.” Sounds very interesting, especially if you’re a fan of Stoker and Dracula.

- An interfaith memorial service for Pagan author, elder, and priestess, De-Anna Alba, also known as Wendy White, will be held tomorrow, Saturday, May 12, 2012 in California at the Church of the Incarnation. De-Anna, author of “The Cauldron of Change: Myths, Mysteries and Magick of the Goddess,” was one of Circle Sanctuary‘s first priestesses and was Circle Sanctuary’s first church secretary. She assisted Selena Fox with publications, events, music, networking, and other endeavors. Selena Fox will give her eulogy and will be among the officiants at De-Anna’s interfaith memorial service this Saturday. Selena also will be among the officiants at De-Anna’s Pagan memorial service and cremains interment at Circle Cemetery in Wisconsin on July 21.

- In a final note, rest in peace Maurice Sendak. Let the wild rumpus start!

That’s it for now! Feel free to discuss any of these links in the comments, some of these I may expand into longer posts as needed.