Archives For evangelism

Unleash the Hounds is one of my longest running, and popular, features at The Wild Hunt. It is, in essence, a link roundup. A place where I find stories in the mainstream media concerning Paganism, occult practices, indigenous religions, and other topics of interest to our interconnected communities. The birth of this series came out of necessity, as more stuff is being written now than I could possible write about in-depth week-to-week. If you enjoy this feature, please take some time to make a donation to our Fall Funding Drive, so we can continue to bring you this, and other features, for another year. Thank you to everyone who has helped us raise over $8000 dollars in less than two weeks, we now have less than $2000 dollars to go, so help us bring this year’s drive to a close! Now, on to the links!

Papa Legba veve' design being removed from the Manhattan American Apparel shop window.

Papa Legba veve’ design being removed from the Manhattan American Apparel shop window.

  • At Ebony Magazine, curator Shantrelle P. Lewis writes an editorial that argues against the appropriation of Vodou, particularly into American Halloween imagery and traditions. Quote: “Vodou, which has come to be known as ‘Voodoo,’ has been bastardized in popular culture and subsequently demonized within Black communities throughout the African Diaspora. If you visit New Orleans, every other tourist shop in the French Quarter is fully stocked with so-called “authentic” Voodoos dolls meant to seek revenge on one’s enemies. This commercialized Voodoo is one of many grossly inaccurate faces of one of Africa’s most ancient traditions thanks to ridiculous stereotypes created first by French planters who escaped alive from the revolutionary uprising that took place on Saint Domingue in the late 18th century and later, sensationalized accounts of travelers to Haiti in the 20th century.” This editorial was spurred by the Manhattan American Apparel shop using a large vevé for Papa Legba in it’s Halloween display, and commenters note that Karla N. Moore, Founder of Our Folklore Community Institute, led the successful initiative to have the display removed.
  • An Episcopal Priest writes about religion at Burning Man for The Huffington Post. Quote: “I regard Burning Man as one of the largest religious rituals in the western world. We danced, created and destroyed things together. We talked, cried, yelled and sat in silence. We came to the holy desert from wildly different places, but even in our ecstasy and despair, mostly we were one — like the future city that John of Patmos calls the New Jerusalem. Burners greet each other with hospitality saying, ‘Welcome home!’ For me this means, ‘express your wonderful uniqueness, because we act as a kind of family for each other.’ I talked about God with Vedic priestesses, Unitarians, yogis, Quakers, entheogen voyagers, Episcopalians, Hindus, Roman Catholics, shamans, atheists and Zen teachers.” The priest, Reverend Dr. Malcolm Clemens Young, said that “Christians should do more to make visible the temporary holiness that unites us.”
  • Sacred Tribes Journal’s Fall 2013 issues is out, and it is “devoted to an exploration of the ethics of evangelism.” Quote: “This is one of the best issues we’ve done, addressing a neglected topic from multiple perspectives, including an Evangelical exposition of the subject, a critique by a Hindu writer, responses by two Evangelicals, a review of Elmer Thiessen’s The Ethics of Evangelism, and an excerpt of Myron Penner’s The End of Apologetics with consideration of the politics and violence of apologetics in certain contexts.” You can read this issue on your Kindle for only 99 cents.
  • “Secular humanism is a pagan god …. blah, blah, blah …. we are living in a pagan society …. blah, blah blah.” More of the same-old, same-old from Christian hater John Hagee. Want more of this brain-dead madness? Here you go. Enjoy. More? Fine, here’s the House stenographer rattling on about “Freemasons.”
  • Meanwhile, the Washington Post looks at the trend of public schools slowly backing away from Halloween due to Christian parents’ belief that it’s a Pagan/demonic holiday. Quote: “True, some images and symbols associated with ‘trick or treat’ can be traced to ancient pagan and other religious practices. But Halloween in America has been so thoroughly secularized that no court in the land is likely to view school Halloween parties as an establishment of religion. What’s actually pushing public schools to re-think Halloween is the recognition that growing numbers of Christian, Muslim and other religious parents are opting their kids out of Halloween celebrations at school. A judge may not see Halloween as ‘religious,’ but many parents see activities involving images of witches, demons and ghosts as offensive to their faith.” In what can only be considered deep irony, the replacement “harvest festivals” are in some ways far more Pagan than the very secular Halloween traditions.
Insert joke here.

Insert joke here.

  • Here is the most fluffy bunny in the world. You’re welcome. Use this image wisely.
  • In a New York Times editorial, T.M. Luhrmann ponders the process of “conjuring up our own gods.” Quote: “Experiencing an invisible companion as truly present — especially as an adult — takes work: constant concentration, a state that resembles prayer […] Secular liberals sometimes take evolutionary psychology to mean that believing in God is the lazy option. But many churchgoers will tell you that keeping God real is what’s hard.”
  • Nobody wants to go to (Christian) church anymore! One reason? Pluralism. Quote: “Speaking of competition, there is a fifth trend impacting the decline of the church in America. People have more choices today. Credit this to the social changes in the ’60s, to the Internet, to the influx of immigrants and minorities, to whatever you’d like, but the fact is, people today meet other people today of entirely different faith traditions and, if they are discovering anything at all, it is that there are scores of people who live as much, if not more, like Christ than many of the Christians they used to sit beside in church. The diversity of this nation is only going to expand.” Don’t worry, though, most of the people who don’t go to church still have spiritual beliefs (just ask any Pagan).
  • The Miami NewTimes interviews a Palo practitioner about his faith, and tries to correct misconceptions about the tradition. Quote: “He insists Palo is part of a beautiful, rich tradition that can be used to heal. Violence, however, is never advocated. There is still a fight for recognition and visibility, though. ‘There are still many people afraid to say this is what they practice, this is what they believe,’ he says. ‘Paleros are everywhere, but they’re just afraid to come out into the light.'”
  • Rev. Nadia Bolz-Weber explains why getting her Pagan goddess tattoo inked over by a Christian design isn’t a cover-up. Quote: “I didn’t see it as a cover-up of the Snake Goddess as much as a layering of my story. My tattoos create a colorful confession of my journey to the cranky, beautiful faith I hold today.” Meanwhile, Pagans continue to strip away the Christian layers to find the goddesses.
  • The new season of Real Housewives of Beverly Hills, a program I know nothing about, features a Wiccan. Quote: “I’m considered a sole practitioner. I am Celtic as far as my ancestry is concerned. My grandmother was a pagan but she also practiced witchcraft, which is what I do. So, if you’re going to put a word on it, I would be considered a Celtic pagan witch. But I’m a sole practitioner; I don’t belong to a coven, which is a group of people that believe in the same things.”

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. Don’t forget, make a donation to our Fall Funding Drive so The Wild Hunt can run for another year!

Yesterday I engaged in a conversation with Paul Louis Metzger, author of “Connecting Christ: How to Discuss Jesus in a World of Diverse Paths, ” which I reviewed not too long ago, Mike Stygal of Pagan Federation London, and Foundation for Religious Diplomacy Evangelical Chapter Director John W. Morehead for the New Wine, New Wineskins podcast.

9780849947247

 

Today we had an opportunity to follow up on a recent conversation with some of our friends in the Pagan community. This time, Jason Pitzl-Waters joined us too. Listen in for a constructive engagement of the Pagan/Christian divide.

Download and listen to the podcast here.

In the span of an hour we discussed the need to really deal with the issue of evangelization, secular vs. multi-faith space, Christian privilege, and how to move Pagan-Christian dialog further. I think it was, on the whole, a constructive discussion that I think could be thought-provoking for evangelicals who listen. During the event I was very mindful of my relative inexperience within the context of interfaith engagement, and how there are many Pagans I know who are doing important work on a global scale. For instance, at this moment, Don Frew, a National Interfaith Representative for the Covenant of the Goddess and a Continuing Trustee for the Global Council of the United Religions Initiative, is at the URI’s Global Council Meeting.

When we gathered for the morning session, Zubair Farooq (Muslim / Pakistan) opened with a prayer and a candle lighting.  Diana Whitney asked us each to sum up our feelings about THIS Global Council were so far.  There were many expected statements, but one stood out… the Honorable Elisha Buba Yero (Christian & Indigenous / Nigeria) said that he sees something in all of us, a “burning flame in each of our hearts”, a desire for one goal: “to make other people as happy as we are”.

You can read more about Don Frew’s experiences at the URI Global Council Meeting at the COG Interfaith Reports blog. I think it’s important not only that I remember and acknowledge the work that individuals like Don Frew, Andras Corban Arthen, Phyllis Curott, Gus diZerega, or Angie Buchanan are doing, but that Christians just starting to enter into real dialog and discussion with modern Pagans understand the work they, and those like them, have done as well. When animus towards modern Pagans was at its height, and when books written and sold by evangelical Christians were peddling fabrications about what Witches and Pagans do, it was people like Frew and Selena Fox who were on the front lines forging interfaith communication and creating allies who would later help us as we emerged into the mainstream. Today, Pagans are involved in interfaith on many levels, and we have built bridges that perhaps some would not realize if they were not “in the loop” regarding interfaith activism.


Interfaith Action of Central Texas documentary featuring COG member Tom Davis

I’ve spent some time recently talking about the importance of intrafaith, solidarity, and ecumenicism within the Pagan community, but interfaith, reaching out to other faiths, is still vitally important. As I said before heading to an evangelical seminary to speak about Paganism:

“The heart of interfaith is recognizing the common humanity of a believer you may have profound disagreements with. To find areas of commonality, to learn how to move past entrenched hostilities and prejudices. To build a world that is less violent, spiritually, emotionally, and physically. I will walk into that seminary with an open heart, and an open mind, and I hope my faith will be rewarded.”

No matter how successful modern Pagans (and our allies) become we cannot pretend the dominant monotheisms don’t exist, nor can we avoid trying to find ways to live and co-exist together. Yes, some of what evangelicals learn in the process of our conversations will be used in evangelization, but it will also humanize us, and hopefully defuse ancient distrusts over time. Pagans working in interfaith, and I suppose I should count myself in that number, are needed, and serve a vital interest to the growth and health of our movement. The simple act of outreach, of talking, can change so much, locally, and increasingly, on a global scale.

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.”

In short, it doesn’t really matter that Romney decisively won white evangelicals, as minority Christians and non-religious voters more than made up for that deficit. At Religion Dispatches, Katherine Stewart says that the religiously unaffiliated (ie “nones”) are the demographic that should really worry Republican strategists who’ve placed almost all of their eggs in the evangelical Christian basket.

“Like any group of this size, the religiously unaffiliated aren’t monolithic. About a third self-identify as atheists, while the rest say they are agnostic, “spiritual but not religious,” or simply uninterested in religion. They are spread fairly evenly across education and income levels. And they’re politically diverse when it comes to economic ideas. But they do seem to largely agree on one thing: that mixing religion with politics is a bad idea.”

“Mixing religion with politics is a bad idea.” It has always sounded good as a principle, but often ignored as evangelical Christians (and Catholics) were seen as vital to winning national elections, and so politicians from both sides of the aisle catered to them, willfully mixing religious rhetoric into their political stances. However, if you read the tea leaves in the run-up to this election, you could see some shifts starting to appear. Like the fact that both Obama and Romney spurned Rick Warren’s religion test/presidential forum, or that the Democratic party was willing to play offence on gay marriage and abortion, areas where they usually play defense.

“Never before have the culture wars been fought so forcefully on both sides. While the spectacle of Republicans declaring holy war has become old hat, this was the first election in which one of the parties explicitly endorsed same-sex marriage; this was the first election in which one party defended a woman’s right to reproductive freedom without apology or hesitation; and this season also saw the passage of a number of same-sex marriage ballot initiatives, as well as the election of the nation’s first openly lesbian senator.”

For years I’ve been yammering on about post-Christianity, slow demographic shifts, and the “nones,” thinking this tipping point was years away. Now, everyone seems to be talking about how “post-Christian” and “European” we suddenly are.

“There isn’t any question that American culture is in a transition from a dominantly Christian culture to a dominantly secular culture. We can no longer expect America society to uniformly embrace Christian values or morality. How the Christian community chooses to respond to this will be critical. Angry rhetoric, and bitterly contested lawsuits and elections create adversaries, but no one ever made an enemy by offering the hand of friendship, helping the down and out, mentoring kids, giving generously to others or helping people after a hurricane get their lives back together.”

That quote, from Richard Stearns, president of World Vision, isn’t unique. While the reliable fire-breathers are getting apocalyptic, some of the more thoughtful conservative Christians are starting to realize that non-Christians, and the non-religious, aren’t going away any time soon, and that younger voters are far more liberal on social issues than previous generations.  As R. Albert Mohler Jr., president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, said: “It’s not that our message — we think abortion is wrong, we think same-sex marriage is wrong — didn’t get out. It did get out. It’s that the entire moral landscape has changed, an increasingly secularized America understands our positions, and has rejected them.”

So, the question now is what will future election battles look like? Obviously in heavily conservative Christian districts the old Christian culture-war stand-bys will hold true for a while longer, but what about the swing states? What about the national elections in 2016? Will religion cease to be an issue at all? Will campaigns actively court the non-religious, will they even court non-Christians? Will there be a true cease-fire on the old culture war lines of birth control, abortion, and gay rights? All of this remains to be seen, but for now, it seems we’re living in the post-Christian future faster than I had ever envisioned.

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.

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.

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.

I have some more post-earthquake Haitian Vodou coverage. First,  WBUR in Boston interviews a Haitian-American Vodou priest from New York about his faith, and explores how Vodou is helping survivors in Haiti cope with this massive tragedy.

“Erol Josue lost more than two dozen friends and extended family in Haiti’s devastating earthquake. The Voodoo priest, who lives in New York, says he has spent the past week saying traditional Voodoo prayers … Voodoo is playing a central role in helping Haitians cope with their unthinkable tragedy … even as Haitians mourn the death of tens of thousands of people, Voodoo gives them an eternal perspective, says Max Beauvoir, the supreme servitor of Voodoo, or the highest priest, in Haiti.”

In addition to interviewing Erol Josue and Max Beauvoir, they also speak to Elizabeth McAlister, a Vodou expert at Wesleyan University. McAlister has been busy defending Vodou since the earthquake hit, writing sympathetic pieces for Forbes and Newsweek/On Faith. They are all part of a growing chorus of pro-Vodou voices that have emerged since Pat Robertson, David Brooks, Rod Dreher, and other commentators have implied, directly and indirectly, that the religion is partially to blame for the depth of the tragedy, and for Haiti’s ongoing social and economic problems.

Not that this has stopped the anti-Vodou onslaught. While Robertson has been (somewhat) muted after the outcry he caused, the Robertson-founded Christian Broadcasting Network (CBN) is staying “on message” concerning Vodou in Haiti. Running a “earthquake bringing Vodou practitioners to Christ” story.

“The Haitian government officially recognized voodoo as a religion in 2003. More than half of the country’s 9 million people are believed to practice voodoo. But for Polestier, the earthquake brought serious doubts about her religious practices. “I’m going to leave it. I’m going to leave Voodoo,” Polestier vowed. “It has brought me nothing but anguish.” It’s a sentiment Camille has heard repeatedly over the last few days as Haitians struggle to understand their hardships. “So many people are accepting Christ,” he said.”

Stay classy, CBN. Leaving their Robertson-connections aside for a moment, the CBN story feeds into a larger undercurrent of post-earthquake pro-missionary sentiment among (predominantly) evangelical Christians.

“A religious ministry group based in Albuquerque is hoping to provide comfort in Haiti by sending hundreds of electronic audio Bibles to earthquake survivors. The group, Faith Comes by Hearing , plans to ship 600 Bibles this week. “The people are thirsty for words of comfort, and they’re asking us for the Bibles,” said spokesperson Jon Wilke … Shortly after the 7.1 earthquake struck Haiti, group members rushed to figure out how they could get the Bibles to the disaster zone…”

I just bet they did! What “opportunity” to swoop in and evangelize while people are experiencing trauma! Still, one wonders if this zeal, and Vodou-demonizing, will ultimately backfire. It’s hard to say what religious narrative will dominate in the months, and years, to come. Could we see a stronger, resurgent, Vodou? Just as many younger Haitian Americans are exploring the faith?

In the meantime, one of the positive outcomes of this terrible tragedy may be the thrusting of Vodou, so long misunderstood, into the spotlight. We are starting to see the appearance of Vodou blogs, as American adherents try to gather news from Haiti. This emerging Vodou voice, along with a growing number of sympathetic scholars, could help shape public opinion, and give journalists better sources to turn to when exploring the religion.

Yesterday we looked at how the Chicago Sun-Times spun the ARIS data into a story about Wiccans, today we turn to Oregon where Nancy Haught at The Oregonian interviews Southern Oregon University sociology professor Mark A. Shibley about what the data means regarding the spiritual makeup of the Northwest.

“Established churches have been in decline, and evangelical Protestantism has been growing. Over time and generations, the mainline and Catholic churches are failing to hang on to young people, and some are being scooped up by mega-churches designed to appeal to the younger generation. New religious movements and spiritualities, neo-paganism, New Age folks have all experimented, explored and are proliferating here in the Northwest. At the same time, the hip California style of evangelicalism has flourished here. Some of those movements have spread up the coast, planted churches and taken hold. Our landscape has gotten a little bit more religious, but in particular ways.”

Shibley, who contributed to the book “Religion and Public Life in the Pacific Northwest: The None Zone”, also points out that many of the increasingly large “nones” demographic found within the ARIS data may very well be exploring spirituality in “unconventional” ways (ie New Age, syncretic mixes, etc). So with “nones” (around 24% in Oregon, 25% in Washington), new religious movements (including Pagans), and evangelicals all flourishing in the Pacific Northwest, does that spell  some sort of looming religious conflict? Maybe not. While evangelicals are certainly absorbing adherents from the slowly dwindling institutional churches, some are predicting a major evangelical collapse in the next ten years.

“Within two generations, evangelicalism will be a house deserted of half its occupants. (Between 25 and 35 percent of Americans today are Evangelicals.) In the “Protestant” 20th century, Evangelicals flourished. But they will soon be living in a very secular and religiously antagonistic 21st century. This collapse will herald the arrival of an anti-Christian chapter of the post-Christian West … Millions of Evangelicals will quit. Thousands of ministries will end. Christian media will be reduced, if not eliminated. Many Christian schools will go into rapid decline. I’m convinced the grace and mission of God will reach to the ends of the earth. But the end of evangelicalism as we know it is close.”

Leaving the Northwest, perhaps, to the Pagans and “nones”? I suppose we’ll just have to wait and see, reports of the collapse of evangelical Christianity have come from a number of different sources and been wrong before. Still, if you squint in a certain direction, you can see how our post-Christian future could develop in the next twenty-thirty years.

As for the journalistic merits of the Oregonian piece, it’s a marked improvement over the Sun-Times’ look at Wiccans. While both only used one source in their respective articles, Haught wisely decided to find an academic who understood the ramifications of the ARIS data and then conducted the piece as a straightforward interview.  She also didn’t try to lead with a bad joke, for which I thank her. The end result is a far more nuanced, accurate, and detail-oreinted look at a developing trend.

The Church of England has been having a hard time of it recently. Attendance levels are falling precipitously, women are leaving in massive droves, and hip outreach programs don’t seem to be making much of a difference. So the Anglican bishops have decided it’s time to get back into the old-school conversions business.

Anglicans were commanded to “go forth and evangelise” yesterday in a dramatic assertion of missionary fervour that could jeopardise carefully built-up relations with Muslims, Jews and other faiths. The established Church of England put decades of liberal-inspired political correctness behind it in a move that led one bishop to condemn in anger the “evangelistic rants” … The Church’s General Synod, meeting in London, overwhelmingly backed a motion to force its bishops to report on their “understanding of the uniqueness of Christ in Britain’s multifaith society” and offer guidance in sharing “the gospel of salvation” with people of other faiths and none.

If you think this move is going to cause some internal tensions, you’d be right. While some vicars see every person they meet as “a potential convert”, others are worried that a renewed stridency will only further hinder efforts at evangelistic outreach.

However, the Bishop of Hulme, Stephen Lowe, who leads the Church’s mission in urban life, told The Times that he was “saddened” by the debate. Condemning the “evangelistic rants” of some members, he said: “There are one or two contributions that worried me because they did not seem to have any understanding of the nature of relationship that precedes good evangelism.” He added: “There’s an element of people who have not got experience of living and spreading the gospel in a multicultural, multifaith context telling those who do have that experience how to do it. That makes me very uneasy.”

Will this re-evangelization effort bear fruit? Or will it simply further alienate those already dissatisfied with the church? Whichever the case, I can’t imagine this will do wonders for relations between the CoE and an increasingly multi-religious Britain. While some vicars complain that British Anglicans need “to recover our nerve” and get back to proclaiming the “truth”, they may find that doctrinal correctness could come at the price of an ever-shrinking audience of believers. As for British Pagans, they now know who to avoid at parties and other social functions.

His name is Jeff Harshbarger, and he just wants to help you. Help you escape the evil clutches of Satan and his minions!

“Harshbarger and his wife Liz co-authored “From Darkness To Light: How to Rescue Someone You Love From the Occult,” published in 2005 by Bridge-Logos of Gainesville, Fla. The couple has founded Refuge Ministries and hopes to have Bible study groups formed by this fall … The book is partly an account of Harshbarger’s own commitment to Satanism as an older teen, the collapse of his anti-faith and his journey back to God. It also offers a primer on forms of spiritualism and practical advice on presenting a Christian alternative for young people attracted to those and similar sects.”

There is a certain sense of nostalgia in the air as I read this article, you just don’t see the ex-Satanic cult members pop up the way they used to. This local news piece is really rather tame, to get some of the “good” stuff regarding Harshbarger’s supposedly Satanic past, you have to dig a little deeper.

“We constructed a pentagram, stood within the pentagram, he [a “Satanist” he had met] prayed over me, and laid hands on me. When he laid hands on me, I was literally filled with a demon … When a demon is around you or inside of you, with the sensation of their presence, you lie to yourself. You think that is your power level … I saw each and every one of them [fellow cult members] become demon possessed, and I noticed something in my heart. My heart felt for them. It was like I was convicted. I knew it was wrong. It was like I knew this shouldn’t be happening. I fought that because I’m a satanist. I don’t care about anybody or anything but me. [But] Here I am a caring satanist. I began to ritually try to kill this part of me — this heart, this part of me that cares.”

Still, even that just doesn’t seem very…evil. No crimes, no sacrifices, just a bunch of teens who think they’re demon-possessed. Mike Warnke he isn’t. But anyway, he’s totally saved now, and wants to save kids from the occult, and has teamed up with ex-witch Annie Fintan to warn Christians about Wicca!

“We know what salvation is because our involvement in the occult nearly killed us. And, we have a passion to reach and effectively serve the youth that are being mislead into believing the lies of Wicca and Paganism. We desire to serve you, the parent, in giving you the tools to parent your child in these times. We desire to serve you, the pastor, in effectively helping the youth of your church, so that they will not need a reason to go looking for their answers anywhere else because the Answer is Jesus Christ. And, we desire to serve anyone who has been or knows someone who is considering or involved in Wicca and Paganism, because sometimes you just don’t know what to do to reach those that you love.”

Nowadays, anti-Pagan books are far more polite. Most Christians have learned their lessons regarding whipping up “Satanic Panics”, and know that such spiritual scorched-earth tactics will often backfire. Instead, Christians are taking a cue from marketers, and spreading FUD (fear, uncertainty, doubt) under the guise of “informing” parents who are “concerned” about their child possibly getting mixed up with the “subtle dangers” of Paganism. Just be careful to not scratch their polite surface, or the old demonizing tactics will spill right out.

Jeff Harshbarger is a relic of a time when Paganism and other new religious movements hadn’t fully emerged from the shadows and into the mainstream. When outright falsehoods could be bandied about without any real opposition or focused criticism. No doubt there will always be a segment of the Christian community who will see demons around every corner, but we can at least be thankful that the time of “Satanic” blood libel, and the merry band of un-convicted ex-Satanic criminals who profited from it, has shrunk to a petulant whisper.

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

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

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

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

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

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