Reflections on MountainTop with Aline “Macha” O’Brien: Part 2

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Last week I posted an article highlighting the MountainTop Summit, a multifaith conference that took place over three days in mid-June.  Uniquely structured, the conference employed digital technology in order to facilitate meaningful dialog among the participants.  Pagan Priestess and Witch, Aline “Macha” O’Brien was on hand to experience this inaugural event and to offer a Pagan perspective.


The event’s title was “MountainTop Summit:  Advancing a Multifaith Movement for Justice.”  Its primary focus was to “explore developing an expanded blueprint” for this social movement.  Erin White of Auburn Theological Seminary writes:

A coordinated and energetic multifaith movement for justice reinforces a shared commitment to breaking down silos, reaching across religious lines, and amplifying a faith perspective across movements — such as the environment, poverty and human rights — as well as across age, race and sexual orientation. Forging a connected path driven by justice strengthens all movements and lifts us all toward fairness and a healed world.

It is becoming increasingly common for multifaith and interfaith efforts to focus on broader social causes.  In a recent article for The Interfaith Observer, Grove Harris wrote:

Faith-based efforts towards peace, social justice, and eradication of hunger and poverty are directly in line with U.N. objectives…In my opinion, the U.N. needs religious groups to increase their activity and apply more pressure.  Above my desk is Margaret Mead’s famous quote – “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful committed citizens can change the world: indeed it’s the only thing that ever has.” 

At all levels, organizations are identifying the beneficial role that multifaith cooperation can have in social justice, environmental activism and other similar efforts.  MountainTop is an example of one conference’s efforts to facilitate this progressive movement. 

M Macha Nightmare

Aline “Macha” O’Brien

Returning to my interview, one of the main reasons for Macha’s eagerness to attend MountainTop was its “collaborative efforts towards social, economic and environmental justice among different religions.”  In the second part of our interview, she shares her observations on this topic as well as the personal affects that the entire experience had her own life – both professionally and personally.

Heather:  Explain the title of the conference to us.

Macha:  The title is “MountainTop: Advancing a multifaith movement for justice.”  That’s where the difference between interfaith and multifaith comes into focus…  As I’ve been given to understand it, and this is by no means universally understood as such, multifaith is more “outer directed,” according to one rabbi I asked.

H: Was there a specific focus or was social justice discussed in general?

M: We talked about all manner of injustice that needed to be reversed — immigration and refugees, racial profiling and Islamophobia; hunger, nutrition and food; education and children’s rights; criminal and juvenile justice and prison reform…; women’s rights and violence against women and children; poverty; slavery and human trafficking; farm workers, day laborers and workers’ rights; politics and the media; digital organizing; homelessness, housing and co-housing; student debt; health care, mental illness and addiction; economic justice; environmental justice; peace; unequal treatment under the law …. You get the idea.

H: You mentioned in our preliminary discussion that there was a large LGBT representation.  Were they there as faith-based representatives or specifically for the LGBT community?

M:  Both.  For example, the Muslim Alliance for Gender and Sexual Diversity; Human Rights Campaign; Southerners on New Ground; Institute for Judaism, Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity; Congregation Bet Haverim; A la Familia; The Fellowship of Affirming Ministries; National Gay and Lesbian Task Force.

Courtesy Flickr's  winnifredxoxo

Courtesy Flickr’s winnifredxoxo

H: With such groups being there, was there a focus at all on the recent DOMA and Prop 8 rulings?  

M: I don’t recall that DOMA and Prop. 8 were specifically discussed, although I’m sure they were in some of the smaller groups.  However, the overall issue of gender justice was very present.  In particular, on our last day there Exodus International announced the closing of its ministry and its former head, Alan Chambers, issued a profuse and heartfelt apology.  The woman who saw the newsfeed on her phone read aloud the entire statement, which was followed by the kind of cheering at MountainTop that has only increased throughout the country over the past two days.

H:  Did any action-items or specific projects come out of these discussions? 

M: Several projects arose from our working.  Some can be implemented quickly and others need refinement, expansion, and sometimes funding…. The final project on which I worked we titled “Mentoring as an Act of Justice.” We explored the many roles of mentoring, how to approach mentors, how to establish a mentoring relationship, what knowledge, skills or any specialties one might look for in a mentor, boundaries, contracts, terms (time), and other factors.

H:  Generally speaking, what was the prevailing attitude with regards to all of these controversial and difficult issues?

M:  [There was] a great…sense of optimism about how society is moving forward.  That’s because of the many really remarkable young people who were there.  They were knowledgeable, committed, engaged, and fun.  Euro-Americans, African-Americans, Christians, Jews, Muslims, and Sikhs — all gave me hope that a more just society can be created.

Courtesy of Flickr's Arghya a.k.a Orgho

Courtesy of Flickr’s Arghya a.k.a Orgho

H:  What did you personally take away from this event?  

M: One insight came from comparing this event to those inter/multifaith groups with which I have more experience.  Over the course of the workings, I noticed that some of the wishes expressed with respect to inter-religious work were wishes that had been addressed in my own community.  Wishes for more than just making nice talk with people of other religions….Mention was [also] made of interfaith ceremony that wasn’t just a review featuring something by one religious group after another.

I also felt affirmed and validated as a respected interfaith activist, one representing a face and voice of the spectrum of minority religions that fall under the umbrella term Paganism.

H:  How will you use this experience going forward?  Has it changed your views or your methodologies?

M: Since disaffiliating myself from my tradition of origin, if you will, I’ve been reviewing my life and re-examining my priorities.  In a way, I had cut myself adrift.  I’ve experienced this rift as an amputation of sorts.  A necessary one, to be sure, but amputations involve pain and loss.  In a strange sense, I’m redefining myself.

So I went to Nashville with an open mind and no agenda.  I viewed it as an opportunity to further this process of redefining myself and my place and work in the world. As I mentioned above, I don’t work with the backing of some huge institution.  I belong to no church. I’m a Witch at Large.  A Pagan generalist…which is not to say undefined or watered down.

I’m also older and less resilient, and have limited economic resources.  So how can I contribute to this on-going work?  Whatever it is, it will probably come from my desk.  I’m an obsessive networker…and a weaver of connections.  That’s one of the things I can contribute.  I can tell your Pagan readers about these efforts.  I can help to build the networks we can then use to mobilize for change.

H: Thank  You, Macha, for sharing your thoughts and experiences with us.


At this time, no plans have been announced for a second event.  But Macha has said that she would definitely return if invited.  She also has stressed to me and on her own blog entries that there are much more “insights to gain” as she “integrates the experiences at Mountaintop into who [she] is.”  Over time, Macha has promised to post news and commentary on her own site, as it becomes available, as well as more personal reflections.