Religious News 2006 (Part 3)

Jason Pitzl-Waters —  December 31, 2006 — 1 Comment

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!

Jason Pitzl-Waters