Archives For Focus on the Family

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.

Anusara Yoga founder John Friend.

Anusara Yoga founder John Friend.

Kenneth Anger. Photograph: Linda Nylind

Kenneth Anger. Photograph: Linda Nylind

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

A Few Quick Notes

Jason Pitzl-Waters —  September 3, 2009 — 2 Comments

I have a few items of interest for you today, starting with a small bit of schadenfreude resulting from the current recession. It seems that conservative Christian organization Focus on the Family has fallen on some hard times.

“Focus on the Family announced Wednesday it is laying off 8 percent of its work force, casualties of the latest budget shortfall at the influential conservative Christian group … The cutbacks are necessary because projections show the group will fall 5 percent short of a $138 million budget for the fiscal year ending this month … The layoffs will leave Focus on the Family with about 860 employees, down from a peak 1,400.”

While I hesitate to cheer at anyone’s misfortune, I do find it hard to muster much in way of sympathy for an organization that has consistently fear-mongered the rise of Pagan faiths, and branded us as Satanic evil-doers. Perhaps now that they are slightly less affluent they will focus on their own families instead of ours.

The Santa Cruz Sentinel profiles John Bruno Hare, founder of Sacred-texts.com, a hugely popular online repository of rare, public domain, and out-of-print works about religion. Hare, who is battling cancer, is hoping to make Sacred-text’s parent company Evinity Publishing profitable so that his legacy can continue after his death.

“…his goal is to make Evinity Publishing, which he started this year as a parent company for his site and other products, continue to educate curious minds long after he passes on.”Essentially, this is my gift to the world,” he said. “I don’t want it to go away if I die. People consider it a world treasure.” … Today, Hare has two employees and four volunteers. As funding allows, he’d like to sign on more employees and volunteers to keep the site going and growing.”

In addition to more mainstream religious materials, Sacred-texts has also become an important online resource for Pagan, Heathen, and Wiccan materials, including the massive Internet Book of Shadows. Here’s hoping Sacred-texts not only survives, but thrives in the years to come. If you want to support the site, you can buy DVD and CD archives of the material found online (including bonus texts not posted).

In a final note, the Agence France-Presse (AFP) checks in with a former Nepali Kumari (living goddess) who has graduated from college, the first Kumari to do so, and is now working in the IT sector. For 29-year-old Rashmila Shakya going from being isolated and worshiped as a goddess to a life of computers, work, and a normal social interactions has been challenging.

“I was not prepared to live a normal life as I had grown up in a different environment,” she said. “Before, I was a goddess and everyone worshipped me and treated me with respect. “Living in society has been difficult, but I am getting used to it. My education and work experience have taught me how to deal with people.”

Despite her difficulties, Shakya doesn’t want the Kumari tradition to end, saying it unites Nepal’s Buddhists and Hindus, instead she wants the tradition to be reformed and programs set up to help former Kumaris adjust to normal life. This has already started, as the Nepalese Supreme Court has ordered that Kumari receive schooling, a major step forward in modernizing the tradition. The Kumari have received a lot of attention in the West recently in the wake of a recent documentary and the first-ever visit of a living goddess to America.

That’s all I have for now, have a great day!

It looks like the Obama administration really will be taking a different direction than the Bush administration in handling this year’s National Day of Prayer (held on the first Thursday of May every year). Officials have stated that Obama will release a proclamation this Thursday, but won’t be hosting a ceremony.

“The Obama administration says it will issue a proclamation marking the National Day of Prayer on Thursday (May 7), but appears to be moving away from the White House ceremonies hosted by former President George W. Bush. “President Obama is a committed Christian and believes that we should be engaging Americans of faith in efforts to renew our country,” a White House official said.”

Prominent conservative Christians (most notably National Day of Prayer Task Force head Shirley Dobson) who have greatly benefited from White House photo-ops in years past have already arranged independent events while insinuating that Obama isn’t properly committed to Sparkle Motion prayer.

“We are disappointed in the lack of participation by the Obama administration,” Shirley Dobson said in a statement issued by the task force on Monday. “At this time in our country’s history, we would hope our president would recognize more fully the importance of prayer.”

This shift will certainly make it harder for the Dobson-backed National Day of Prayer Task Force to present itself as the official White House-backed organizer of this annual event and attack politicians who don’t fall into line with their goals and values. One hopes this will lead to a nationwide call to prayer that is inclusive of all faiths, instead of empowering and enriching an organization that purposely excludes other religions. Will Obama’s proclamation include overtures to non-Christian faiths? Considering Obama’s nods to Hindus and Buddhists in past speeches, and the inclusion of yoga at the White House Easter event, I’m hopeful. But we’ll have to wait for Thursday and see.

For the last eight years, evangelical and conservative Christians have had unprecedented access to the president and the prestige of the White House. This included front-row seats at White House observances for the “National Day of Prayer” (held on the first Thursday of May every year). For years non-Christian groups, religious minorities, and liberal/moderate Christians have denounced the hijacking of this national call to prayer by the National Day of Prayer Task Force led by  Shirley Dobson (wife of Focus on the Family founder, James Dobson), a non-governmental group that enjoyed all-but-official backing from the Bush administration. But now there is a new president in office, and the Task Force is already planning for a big snub.

“Every year between 2001 and 2008, former President Bush’s calendar was cleared on the first Thursday in May to mark the National Day of Prayer in the White House East Room with prominent evangelicals. Now the Obama White House is facing questions of inside-the-Beltway etiquette: Should Obama maintain the open door to conservative critics like James and Shirley Dobson, and if so, should they accept? Or, will the White House have an official observance at all? With those questions unanswered less than three weeks before the annual observance, the National Day of Prayer Task Force headed by Shirley Dobson is moving ahead with other plans … In years past, Toon said, a White House liaison has contacted the ministry at least a month in advance to ask about their participation in the White House events that featured music, Scripture readings and remarks by the president and Shirley Dobson. She and her husband, Focus on the Family founder James Dobson, were seated prominently in the front row next to the president and first lady … This year, Dobson’s task force has opted to hold its annual event on Capitol Hill in the morning — at the same time when its representatives are usually at the White House.”

Could this pre-planning for a snub be more pessimism from the Dobson camp? James Dobson did recently made the news for a downright gloomy exit speech concerning culture war failures. Or perhaps this is just canny positioning? After all, if they are throwing their own party, they can hardly said to be snubbed by Obama can they? But if the Dobsons are losing their front-row photo-op with the new president, what will the official White House day of prayer event be like? Will there even be an event or proclamation? NDP Task Force vice chairman Brian Toon points out that the big White House prayer photo-op was only instituted during the reign of George W. Bush, and that previous presidents were more subtle in their participation.

“Prior to the Bush years, task force leaders held more low-key events, including at Lafayette Park across the street during the Clinton administration. “There was no East Room event until George W.,” Toon said. While he recalled being at White House receptions with rabbis and imams, Toon said the Capitol Hill event has tended to be “very Christian.” If there is no White House event this year, it would be a disappointment, Toon said.”

Can we have a national call to prayer that doesn’t insinuate you need to be an evangelical Christian to be fully included? While I haven’t been fully happy with all of Obama’s religiously-oriented choices, he has made overtures to humanists, Buddhists, Hindus, and “nonbelievers” in past speeches. Maybe we’ll finally see a proclamation and observance from our new administration that doesn’t alienate and exclude non-Christians when a call to pray for the USA goes out. Perhaps this example will “trickle-down” to the state governers, who will no longer be cowed into issuing Dobson-approved NDPTF proclamations for a day and message supposedly meant for all Americans.

“Perhaps it’s just as well that you won’t be here tomorrow, to be offended by the sight of our May Day celebrations here.”Lord Summerisle, “The Wicker Man”

Next week, thanks to a quirk of the calendar, one of the biggest religious festivals within modern Paganism will coincide with the yearly National Day of Prayer. The National Day of Prayer, in theory a time for all Americans of faith to unite and pray (in their own manner) for the well-being of the country, has long been co-opted by conservative Christian evangelicals who operate a “task force”. This group (essentially run by Focus on The Family) runs the bulk of NDP events, and excludes non-Christians from active participation.

“The National Day of Prayer Task Force was a creation of the National Prayer Committee for the expressed purpose of organizing and promoting prayer observances conforming to a Judeo-Christian system of values. People with other theological and philosophical views are, of course, free to organize and participate in activities that are consistent with their own beliefs. This diversity is what Congress intended when it designated the Day of Prayer, not that every faith and creed would be homogenized, but that all who sought to pray for this nation would be encouraged to do so in any way deemed appropriate. It is that broad invitation to the American people that led, in our case, to the creation of the Task Force and the Judeo-Christian principles on which it is based.”

Sounds reasonable, right? Can’t the non-Christians throw their own party? The problem is that the NDPTF bills itself as the “official” site for the National Day of Prayer, and attacks any governor who won’t support their efforts with an official proclamation. In addition, Christian coordinators who attempt to throw an inclusive event under the NDPTF auspices are barred from running future events. So JewsOnFirst is calling for citizens to lobby their governors to shun the NDPTF, and either not issue a proclamation, or issue an inclusive statement that doesn’t empower such a narrow view of acceptable public prayer (or crib talking points from Focus on the Family).

“The National Day of Prayer has been hijacked! What began in 1952 as President Truman’s declaration of a National Prayer Day for all Americans is now excluding and dividing us on religious lines. The “Task Force” excludes Jews, Muslims, Catholics and even mainline Christians from participation in the events it coordinates around the country. Many of those events are staged in government venues with elected officials, in a deliberate affront to the separation of church and state.”

You can find contact information for your governor, here. You can find a sample telephone script and sample letter on the inclusive prayer day site. You can also find a listing of proclamations already issued.


Let’s hear it for inclusive prayer!

While I encourage my readers to participate in this call for inclusiveness, I think the fact that the National Day of Prayer falls on May Day/Beltane is far too good an opportunity to pass up! If there is a NDP event being held at your state capitol, why not take a gaggle of Pagans and Heathens in their best May-finery? Or why not hold an event as near as possible to the “official” NDPTF-organized shin-dig? Imagine May-poles and hobby-horses prancing while the evangelicals studiously pray against gay marriage. If the NDPTF is given a government building to hold their meeting, demand one for a really inclusive gathering! Invite anyone who’ll show up! Pray to your assorted gods and goddesses!


We’re a deeply religious people.

If all else fails, hold a procession past the capitol reminding the lawmakers that a “National Day of Prayer” includes all faiths, not just the ones with the political clout to co-opt it for their own ends. When a prayer event hijacked by conservative Christians falls on May Day, who knows what could happen!