Archives For Jim Towey

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.

Word has leaked that Barack Obama’s campaign director for religious-affairs, Joshua DuBois, has been tapped to lead up the revamped Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives (now called the Council for Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships). DuBois, a 26-year-old Pentecostal pastor, was raised by James Dobson-listening conservative parents and spearheaded Obama’s efforts to reach out to socially conservative evangelicals and Catholics.

President Obama plans to name Joshua DuBois, a 26-year-old Pentecostal pastor and political strategist who handled religious outreach for the Obama campaign, to direct a revamped office of faith-based initiatives, according to religious leaders who have been informed about the choice. The office, created by President George W. Bush by executive order at the start of his first term, is likely to have an even broader mandate in the Obama White House, said the religious leaders, who requested anonymity because the appointment has yet to be announced.

The big question now is if DuBois will do a better job reaching out to religious minorities than some of his predecessors under President Bush. Will this younger man be more tuned in than Jim Towey? The man who famously questioned whether Pagans could be charitable or help the poor.

“I haven’t run into a Pagan faith-based group yet, much less a Pagan group that cares for the poor! Once you make it clear to any applicant that public money must go to public purposes and can’t be used to promote ideology, the fringe groups lose interest. Helping the poor is tough work and only those with loving hearts seem drawn to it”.

While Towey did eventually backtrack somewhat from his anti-Pagan gaffe, you have to wonder if DuBois, who has been cagey about his personal stands on hot-button issues (not to mention his views of other faiths), will be much better. Can a man focused so heavily on conservative and traditional Christians also reach out to Hindus, Buddhists, Pagans, and indigenous faith traditions? Will this revamped initiative bring all faiths to the table? I suppose we’ll have to wait and see, but the Obama administrations first forays into faith have been decidedly mixed to say the least. What do you think? Will the new faith-based initiative be fairer and more inclusive under a Democratic administration? Should Obama have even kept the office around?

Now we get to the top four news stories of 2006 that had (or will have) the greatest effect on our communities.

4. The resignation of Jim Towey. In April of this year the appointed director of the recently formed White House Office of Faith-Based & Community Initiatives stepped down. Towey led an Office that was controversial from its first announcement, raising questions regarding separation of Church and State, and the role of government funding religious organizations.

Towey had made waves in the Pagan community back in 2003 when someone asked him if Pagan groups would be eligible to receive government funds from his office. His response was that he had never heard of a Pagan group that cared for the poor, and that such groups are usually interested in money for their own advancement (he later clarified his statement). This made Towey the first White House official to talk about modern Pagans, and raised the issue of who is getting the billions pouring through this office. Some have accused the office of acting as a money funnel to evangelical groups supportive of the Bush White House.

While some Pagans saw an opportunity to get federal funds (no Pagan group has yet to my knowledge), many see it as an erosion of the separation of Church and State and a blow to the advancement of minority religions in America. The career and resignation of Towey should re-motivate us to not let this issue fall under the radar once the Bush presidency is over.

3. Growing animosity and tensions between Christians and Pagans. This year saw a number of isolated incidents that could signal growing tensions between our communities and certain Christian groups. Catholic hooligans assaulted Pagans in Glastonbury, a Pagan store was burned down in Washington, an evangelical pastor was kicked out of his denomination for getting too friendly with local Pagans in Salem, and the usual suspects kept spreading disinformation and fear. Meanwhile conservative Christian lawmakers almost succeeded in making our military a de facto Christian army.

Sometimes, insulated by our communities and support networks, we forget that Pagans are still being fired from their jobs simply for being Pagan, or are told to suppress their religious expression (even though Christian employees are not held to the same standards). The truth is that certain religious groups have been noticing our rapid growth and they feel threatened by that success (finding indoctrination inside every Harry Potter book). To those who feel threatened we are a demonic force that must be stopped. It can sometimes be a small step from angry rhetoric to irrational action. I just hope that this isn’t a trend, and that these truly are isolated incidents and not a harbinger of what is to come.

2. “Da Vinci” hype and the divine feminine. Whether we liked it or not, our communities were affected by this trend. As I mentioned in part one of this series, we ended up involved in several stories reporting on the hype and myths behind the bestselling novel and hit movie. Even though I thought the book was kind of stupid, I can’t deny that it became a lightning rod for controversy and brought the notion of a divine feminine to the mainstream. The real question at this point is what happens next? Will this trend continue to grow, or has “Da Vinci” fever run its course.

I think that “Da Vinci” was in the right place at the right time. There have been counter-cultural rumblings about the female nature of the divine for some time now. Since the beginning of the 20th century women have been taking larger roles in public religion. Polytheist and Goddess religions can only directly benefit from such interest. But will our communities have a voice in the shaping of this ongoing trend or will something completely new emerge from the odd mixture of neo-gnostic thought, Christian heresy, and Pagan religion? For sheer volume of coverage and potential future ramifications this issue rises to the top of my list.

1. The Veteran Pentacle quest. By far this issue has dominated coverage of all things Pagan in 2006. What started as a human interest story regarding one widow’s fight to have her husband’s faith recognized on his memorial plaque, has evolved into a major national issue involving lawsuits, a tight-lipped Veteran’s Administration accused of stonewalling the approval of Pagan symbols, and countless editorials. Helping to drive this quest has been the Rev. Selena Fox of Circle Sanctuary. Fox, along with Roberta Stewart and the Lady Liberty League have kept the issue in the press and refused to go away. As this issue comes to court in 2007 we will most likely find out once and for all why there is no approved Pentacle symbol for Pagan soldiers after nine years of attempts, and if all goes well the case will open the door for all modern Pagan faiths to have their symbols approved.

In addition to this issue, it also proved that a Pagan organization can be media savvy and come off as respectable and serious. In the process we won some unlikely allies in our quest for equal treatment and respect. Fox has showed how we can rally our communities to an issue and gain mainstream support in the process. The Veteran Pentacle Quest has earned the right to be called the number one Pagan news story of the year.

That wraps up my top ten news stories about or affecting modern Paganism in 2006. Thanks for reading, and I hope you’ll join me for another year of sifting through the news and views of interest to our communities.
See you in 2007!

Exit Jim Towey

Jason Pitzl-Waters —  April 20, 2006 — 4 Comments

This week, amongst the higher-profile resignations of White House press secretary Scott McClellan, and Chief of Staff Andrew Card, comes the quiet exit of Jim Towey, Director of the White House Office of Faith-Based & Community Initiatives. His resignation has mostly revived talk of separation of Church and State, and the role of government funding religious organizations. For modern Pagans however he will remain famous as the official who questioned Pagan charity and prompted a lot of soul-searching and controversy within the modern Pagan communities.

Jim Towey with George W. Bush

It all started back in November 2003 during a web Q&A, someone asked him if Pagans would be eligible for money from the Office of Faith-Based & Community Initiatives. His answer didn’t endear him overmuch to Pagans.

“I haven’t run into a Pagan faith-based group yet, much less a Pagan group that cares for the poor! Once you make it clear to any applicant that public money must go to public purposes and can’t be used to promote ideology, the fringe groups lose interest. Helping the poor is tough work and only those with loving hearts seem drawn to it”.

A pretty bold statement. Some were unsurprised considering Bush’s earlier statements regarding modern Paganism, some were completely outraged at the statements, but others wondered if modern Paganism was doing any good for local communities. Were there modern Pagans helping the poor? The answer actually ended up being yes, they do. Towey received over 1500 letters from modern Pagans and actually met with “one or two” in Washington following his comments. In a later online chat he recanted his earlier statement.

“I meant no ill will toward any individual or group in my response to the question I was asked the last time I was on-line. People with loving hearts can come from many different faiths and backgrounds, and indeed, many who volunteer to help others or donate money to charities may not be motivated by faith at all.”

Despite that, Towey seemed confused as to what a “Pagan” was. Perhaps influenced by his Catholic background, Towey often seemed to infer that “Pagan” actually meant “atheist”.

Pagan leader Red Selchie, who briefly met with Towey after the “Pagan” comments, also became concerned that the whole organization Towey was heading is lacking in accountability and transparency. Needed elements if the program is going to be truly fair in how it decides where funds will go.

“Looking back over my twenty plus years of working as a social worker and nurse, I know that Christian based organizations have always gotten federal monies to provide services. Most of the time, they do an excellent job. If there is one thing that Christianity does well, it’s provide for the poor with charity work. I don’t have a problem with that; I believe if there is one thing we Pagans can learn from our Christian brothers and sisters, it’s how to be more charitable to those less fortunate. It’s not even really a religious issue, it’s a human issue. Nor do I even really have a problem with the majority of the funds being sent to Christian organizations. As far as religious charity organizations go, they do make up a majority. But I would object to minority religions not being given the same opportunity to access those funds, or be denied because of the fact they are a minority. Mr. Towey, er, Jim, assures me that isn’t the case, but the plain fact is, unless they are keeping records and being held accountable, they can’t prove it.”

In his tenure over 2 billion was distributed to faith-based organizations. Most of it with little to no oversight, and perhaps going to questionable sources.

For Pagans, Towey represents a strange turning point. It may be the first time a cabinet-level official has addressed and commented on modern Paganism, yet it seems somewhat obvious that Towey put a good face (he did work with Mother Teresa after all) on Bush’s desire to enrich Christian groups and erode the barrier between Church and State. In the end this may be the most disempowering administration for anyone adhering to a minority faith in recent history. Considering Bush’s tendency to promote cronies from within, I think Towey will be the friendliest face modern Pagans will see from the Bush administration.

Towey is leaving his White House position for the presidency of St. Vincent College in Latrobe. He also promises to work on his ultimate career goal, getting to Heaven. So farewell Jim Towey, here’s hoping you achieve your career goal.