This past April I wrote a piece criticizing the religious portal site Beliefnet for a news item that conflated the recent Cornwall controversy over teaching Paganism in religious education classes with the troubling trend of witch-hunts and witch-killings in places like Africa and the Middle East. The article, written by Beliefnet Senior Editor Rob Kerby, not only drew criticism from me, but from Beliefnet’s only Pagan blogger, Gus diZerega, and several Pagans who commented on the original article at Beliefnet. It also inspired a response from Evangelical Christians Paul Louis Metzger and John W. Morehead.
“Those in Pagan circles have responded strongly to the piece, and with good reason. Kerby provides no solid substantiation for his claims, demonstrates a lack of familiarity with the spiritual practices and beliefs he critiques, and as a result, the piece creates fear and suspicion of witchcraft (and broader Paganism as well). While Christians have often accused Paganism of superstition, the irony is that the Christian community has often approached Paganism superstitiously. Kerby’s piece only adds to the superstition and suspicion, made worse by the stereotypes and fears that often underlie such representations.”
Now, two months later, Beliefnet seems to have finally reacted to the controversy their Senior Editor caused. In a thread on their forums, an official response was posted on June 7th in a thread started by Gorm Sionnach.
“We wanted to reach out to you to let you know how deeply sorry we are for the Beliefnet News blog post back in April titled “What can the third world teach the “civilized” world about witchcraft.” Unfortunately this post was just recently brought to our attention; however it has been permanently removed from Beliefnet.com.
Please note that the views expressed in this piece are by no means representative of Beliefnet and our views toward Paganism. Beliefnet is, and will always remain, a multi-faith website celebrating all beliefs.
Thank you for bringing this to our attention. Your voices and discussions are a valuable and enjoyed asset to the site and we look to continue to provide you with a safe environment to express your own thoughts and feelings on religion, spirituality and more.”
A quick check shows that the story has indeed been removed (here’s a cached version of the article), but there is no outside acknowledgement of this anywhere. The apology has only been posted to this thread on the Beliefnet forums, and somewhat disturbingly, they have also removed Gus diZerega’s criticisms of the piece as well (here’s a cache of the post). Since I know Gus diZerega, I asked him about this, and he related to me that the deletion was done without his prior knowledge or approval. An apology was also directed to Gus from Rob Kerby, but not directly.
While I appreciate that Beliefnet was willing to apologize to Gus diZerega and Pagans on the Beliefnet forums, I’m disturbed by how they have decided to simply scrub this incident away and not publicly acknowledge that they had done something offensive. I also think it is disingenuous at best to pretend they knew nothing of this controversy until “recently.” That would mean that no-one reads comments at the site, looks at trackbacks, traffic reports, or even pays attention to the content on their blogs. I think a comment from Beliefnet forum member ‘Ferretling’ sums the situation up rather well.
“What I find bothersome is that they took it down from its very prominent position, but did not write a news article apologizing. No, they tuck away the apology here, where only those bothering to read the Multifaith Board will see it. To me this says a couple things. The first is that they don’t actually care. The second is that they are not really sorry. The third is that they don’t worry themselves about the concerns or feelings of any of their non-Christian members. I am a former pagan (now Zen Buddhist), and I found the article highly offensive. But what I find even more offensive is that there is no public statement on the same page from the so-called writer who spewed the idiocy, nor from Beliefnet itself. Put the apology and retraction on the page where everyone can see it, not tucked away here in a seldom-visited forum.”
One has to wonder, is this how Beliefnet apologizes? By scrubbing critical posts, keeping apologies “in house,” and generally pretending the whole thing never happened? That seems counter-productive to me, and holds no one accountable for their actions. If Rob Kerby and Beliefnet are truly sorry for this article, they should make their apology visible and accessible, posted in the same sections the original piece was. The question of if Beliefnet actually values its Pagan readers and contributors is still very much an open one.