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.