“Ministry is fundamentally about serving the congregation, in contrast to being primarily about serving the gods,” wrote Sam Webster. That is essentially the role a journalist fills, and its particularly true for journalists who write for and about minority religious communities, such as we do here at The Wild Hunt. Just as a minister must sometimes stand apart from individual relationships to understand the spiritual needs of the entire community, Wild Hunt journalists commit to the credo that “we don’t stir the cauldron; we cover it.” Determining the difference between interpersonal conflict and newsworthy events requires what is perhaps the most slippery of spiritual tools: discernment. While in many polytheist and Pagan traditions, ministers by any name do not hold explicit authority over others, the respect and deference given them may cause them to be apart from the community that they serve.
When Barack Obama won his presidential reelection bid in 2012, the biggest story about the immediate aftermath was how America’s shifting demographics had delivered the victory (and that Nate Silver was right all along, but that’s a different story). A big sub-headline was the rise of religiously unaffiliated voters (“nones”), who now rival the evangelical Christians in size, but also important was the difference between the religious coalitions that supported the presidential nominees. Sarah Posner called it the “great religious realignment.” “A recent Pew survey found that there are now equal numbers of white evangelicals and unaffiliated voters, and a Public Religion Research Institute poll found similar results. I noted at the time of the PRRI survey that the bulk of Romney’s base was coming from white conservative evangelicals, mainline Protestants, and Catholics, while Obama’s “support comes from a more diverse group: 23% from the unaffiliated, 18% from black Protestants, 15% from white mainline Protestants, 14% from white Catholics, 8% from Latino Catholics, and 7% from non-Christians.
It appears that the controversial move by Canadian Public Safety Minister Vic Toews to retract a paid position for a Wiccan prison chaplain was merely a harbinger of much bigger things. The CBC reports that Toews, who oversees Canada’s penitentiaries, has eliminated all paid part-time chaplain services, effectively making government prison chaplaincy a Christian-only affair. “Inmates of other faiths, such as Muslims, Sikhs, Buddhists and Jews, will be expected to turn to Christian prison chaplains for religious counsel and guidance, according to the office of Public Safety Minister Vic Toews, who is also responsible for Canada’s penitentiaries. […] Toews’ office says that as a result of the review, the part-time non-Christian chaplains will be let go and the remaining full-time chaplains in prisons will now provide interfaith services and counselling to all inmates.” Toews’ office said in a statement to the CBC that “[Christian] chaplains employed by Corrections Canada must provide services to inmates of all faiths.”
What’s it like to be a religious minority in a Christian-dominated culture? Jews on First has published a must-read in-depth exploration of what it’s like for Jewish students going to public schools in the South, consistently exposed to peer pressure and conversion attempts by their Christian classmates, behavior often (directly and indirectly) supported by faculty. “It can be the little stuff, like my classmates wishing me to have a ‘blessed day’. I know that really means that Jesus blesses you,” says Jane. “I have a friend who introduces me as her ‘Jewish friend, Jane’.
According to Grey Matter Research, Americans think our country is far more religiously diverse than it actually is. In a survey of 747 adults the research and consulting firm found that most underestimated the size of Christianity and over-estimated the size of atheists, Muslims, and other religious minorities. “The typical American adult pegs religious affiliation in the U.S. as follows: 24% Catholic, 20% Protestant, 19% unaffiliated, 9% Jewish, 9% atheist or agnostic, 7% Muslim, 7% Mormon, and 5% from all other religious groups. In reality, according to the 2008 U.S. Religious Landscape Survey from the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, Americans are right on target with the proportion of Catholics and the “all other” category, but way off target on the rest of the landscape. The typical American badly underestimates how many Protestants there are in the country, and way overestimates the presence of religious minorities such as Mormon, Muslim, and atheist/agnostic.” In fact, if you check the Pew Forum data from 2008, you’ll see that Muslims in America only comprise 0.6% of the population. In contrast “Unitarians and other liberal faiths” comprise 0.7% and “New Age” faiths (ie Pagans) comprise around 0.4%.