Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Salem: No Place for Hating Witches - SynchroBlog for April 16th, 2008

I am able to take a little time and write this because I completed my taxes months ago.

I really wanted to get away from posting about Neo-Paganism. Yes, I live in Salem, and Witches, Wiccans, Pagans, and the like are the common fare of local experience. Yes, this is home to such groups as The Witchcraft League for Public Awareness, and yes, I do specifically have understanding about the goings-on in the Pagan community because of friendships I have developed over the years, but nonetheless one wishes to write about something else once in a while, but alas recent events have conspired to make this SynchroBlog on the subject of social justice, and the topic of Neo-Paganism blend into one.

On Saturday, April 12th Jerrie Hildebrand and Salem's No Place for Hate Committee organized a panel discussion featuring Jerrie (a Salem Witch and social activist), Salem State professor Elizabeth Duclos-Orsello, and Margot Adler: the host of NPR's "Justice Talking" and a famed Pagan author.

The focus of the public discussion was to highlight Wiccan/Pagan lifestyle and beliefs in order to break misguided public perceptions, and help bring healing and understanding to the community.

So, here is why I need to write about this in my SynchroBlog on Social Activism and Christian Mission - Our church supplied the sound system, and I ran the sound for the event.

An article in Salem News from Monday the 14th highlights this event.

The newspaper seemed to underestimate the crowd from my evaluation. It seemed that there were closer to 100 in the room, which seats about 220, and the Pagan population appeared to be a little more than half the group when hands were raised.

Margot and Jerrie gave a brief history of Neo-Paganism in the US, and in Salem specifically. After about an hour, questions were asked, and the Salem State professor monitored the questions.

Here are some of the statements, and questions which stood out to me during the evening:

Jerrie: "We are single, married, monogamous, with multiple partners, gay, heterosexual, and from every walk of life." That did define the room itself, and the Pagan community as I have come to know it over the years.

Margot: "People are not comfortable talking about religion. After 35 years I can count on two hands the number of people who have asked me to coffee in order to sit down and talk about what I believe." I later asked her if I could come down to new York City sometime and meet her over coffee (I did not mention I hate coffee), to talk about Paganism with her.

The newspaper article outlines some of the questions asked, and points of discussion, and covers the basics of the meeting. My point for writing this is something different altogether: What is the place of the church in creating peaceful discussion with other religious groups?

Reading the comments to the Salem News article one finds what appear to be rather mean spirited comments from Christians. I responded with an apology for the behavior of the those from my tribe who are supposed to be "peacemakers."

Is there a place for social activism to include Christians getting involved in anti-hate campaigns against religious groups with which we theologically disagree on fundamental points of doctrine and truth?

I say yes, and have received not a small portion of condemnation for it.

What do you say?


Steve Hayes said...

"Is there a place for social activism to include Christians getting involved in anti-hate campaigns against religious groups with which we theologically disagree on fundamental points of doctrine and truth?"

And my answer would be "of course there is".

But there is also a question that arises out of it. How far can you go with that with religious groups that themselves promote hatred as part of the fundamental points of doctrine that you disagree with?

For example, here in South Africa there was a group called "Church of the creator" that promoted doctrines of white supremacy and racism, and referred to non-whites as the "mud races" and things like that.

And it gets more complicated still. Back in 1999 there was a group called "Ontario Consultants for Religious Tolerance" or something like that. Their web site is still around. And the organiser of it, one Bruce Robinson, was promoting conspiracy theories calculated to stir up hatred against "Christian fundamentalists". He was spreading rumours to the effect that when the world did not end in the year 2000, Christian fundamentalists, in their disappointment, would start terrorist bombing campaigns.

Now I have profound theological disagreements with Christian fundamentalists, but found myself defending them against hate speech from the leader of an "anti-hate" group! Talk about moral ambiguity!

Anonymous said...

I agree - the answer is yes - but it does beg the question as to how. Perhaps it shouldn't - Jesus illustrated it pretty well with the Samaritan woman at the well and with the parable of the Good Samaritan - but there are those who always raise the point that it is never loving to coddle someone who is trapped in a lie. Of course, they often call anything short of preaching at someone coddling.

The most troubling part of your post? You hate coffee. :)

Bruce said...

It's always good to do good. About anti-hate campaigns, hmm, well, they do tend to be vehicles for the ones who start them. That's a problem. The conversation goes something like this.

I hear that Jesus agreed with the Pharisees about a whole lot of things, such as the importance of keeping every little jot and tittle of the law. "So you're saying that Jesus is a Pharisee?" No, that's not what I said. "So you're saying that Jesus is a hate-filled homophobe who wanted to stone people who didn't line up with the Law of Moses?" No, that's not what I said. "What exactly do you mean then, you hateful bigot?"

I have believed for YEARS that we can and should be co-belligerants with people who oppose us in other areas. Got that from Francis Schaeffer, who I still trust for perspective usually. About this area, I'm beginning to wonder if we should, instead, raise our own voices and not "co-beligerate." BECAUSE the point of protesting something is to give some kind of leadership, and leaders & leadership are interpreted by the common rules of leaders & leadership. That is, people will deconstruct our meaning, like it or not, and in the current climate of suspicion, co-protesters are understood as being under the banner of the dominant group.

"So you're saying Jesus ISN'T a gay-basher? So you're saying He doesn't keep the Law? Is that it? He's loosey-goosey about justice?"

Sometimes we gotta let people think what they want to, tho. I guess we have to walk by faith.
Next thing you know, we're going to have to do EVERYTHING by faith.

(Do you realize that beer and ale were sold in publick houses as an alternative to the Devil's Brew, Tea? Heard that from Dick Keyes down in Southboro L'Abri. Me, I'm sticking to Columbia's favorite--I mean-- Columbia's legal export, coffee, for when I want a cheap and legal pharmacological stimulant.)

Pastor Phil said...


Are telling me that there is not a simple answer to this issue? Dang, I'll have to go back to drawing board, or maybe just forget helping people. ;-)

Pastor Phil said...


The troubling part of your response is that you seem to have an addiction to a stinky black bean.

Pastor Phil said...


co-beligerate indeed! I'm always up for that. I figure if the discussion at any given point is about prejudice, and strife I will defend the persecuted. Of course when I sit them down with them a discuss other subjects I will stick to my opinion just as firmly.

I think one of the defining lines for how we get involved is defined by what we are discussing at any one point. If anti-hate is the discussion I will stick to the issue. When we the topic changes my position will follow along with what I believe on the new subject. This helps me keep unnecessary arguments out of the picture as I reach out to help others.

cern said...

Picking up on Steve's opener.... I think the key is to include the concept 'don't hate the hater' in an anti-hate approach. I don't hate racists. I hate the promotion of and activities based on racism. So rather than speak out and say 'This person is bad because they promote racism' I might say 'The racism that is being promoted here is bad because....'. Even better would be to add a 'I feel..' at the front of the second version.

I've had Christians spout hate filled messages at me. But I've also had an awful lot of non-judgemental love directed at me from Christians. So I've taken time to speak out against hate directed towards Christians for the Christianity, even by people who have been victims of the same hate filled messages from Christians as I have. If we must hate then at least we should consider where that hate is directed. Direct it at behaviour, not those exhibiting the behaviour you hate. Try to make sure you clearly distinguish between the two. When (not if, because it WILL happen) someone you're speaking to assumes you are speaking about them and not the behaviour, remember to be gentle in drawing attention to what you said, what you meant. Oh, and if (when, because we all do) you screw up, remember to apologise and try to make amends.



Alan Knox said...

Yes, followers of Jesus Christ should be involved in the anti-hate campaign. Similarly, we should spend time with those who are usually hated. Remember that Jesus used Samaritans, prostitutes, and tax collectors as positive examples in his stories, and he spent time with them - much the dismay of the religious establishment. The religious establishment today will probably still reject someone who hangs out with modern day Samaritans, prostitutes, and tax collectors, but at least we'll be following Jesus.


Kieran Conroy said...

Really appreciate all the graceful, thoughtful statements here. Having long split my time with Pagans and Christians, I've seen the effects of distrust in each group- the experience of hate/hurt can so easily just lead to more.

Sometimes just having the other among you helps. My pagan friends might need to vent a little cathertically, but they've told me having a loving Christian there, both to show them another way AND remind them when they're being hateful helps even more. That's why I think the "ambassadorial" roll of dialog, just building friendships is so important.

Likewise, I've found equal venting towards the other in conservative and liberal Christian circles. Having long-given up fitting into neat boxes, I feel called to push members of each to consider how welcome a visitor from the other side would feel around such statements. Its a important, but sometimes hazardous role to play. :P

I admit I, lastly (maybe I should have first!) am far from perfect. I realize times I might have called online comments towards Wiccans hateful/judgmental that may not have been fair. I've seen plenty that are in recent articles, but I also have to defend a person's right to speak criticisms if they aren't really being hateful. Its easy to rush to condemn online.

Adam Gonnerman said...

This question has been on my mind lately, though in a different form. Rather than pagans, I've been mulling over the situation of homosexuals. While I believe the best Christian perspective on homosexuality is that it should be avoided as a practice and lifestyle by disciples of Christ, it seems obvious to me that Christians should be at the forefront of defending homosexuals from discrimination in larger society. To most in the gay, lesbian and transgender community this position probably seems impossible and naive, but I think it actually makes a great deal of sense. Trouble is, the only way to prove it can work is by doing it. Words alone can do little.

Anonymous said...

Though I try not to tell Christians (or anyone else, for that matter) what they should do as a rule, I think it's absolutely important for Christians to get involved in such campaigns. After all, the Christian faith is often abused and twisted to justify the hatred against people and groups of other religions. If Christians don't stand up and say, "Our faith is not about hate," and do so in demonstrative ways (rather than just paying lip service), then they are effectively allowing their faith to become increasingly associated with hatred.

Of course, I'm also reminded of the ultra-conservative response to GLSEN's annual Day of Silence, an even which is intended to raise awareness of bullying, harassment, and other mistreatment of gay (or presumed gay) kids in school. It seems that a great number of the "family values" groups seems to confuse speaking out against mistreatment of gay people with "promoting a homosexual agenda," which has caused them to suggest responses like The Day of Truth or keeping Christian kids out of school on the Day of Silence.

It seems that decrying the mistreatment of others is often conflated with tacit approval of the other's choices in life. And that seems to be true whether you're talking about sexual orientation, religion, or just about anything else.

-- Jarred.

Kieran Conroy said...

Some great points- I appreciate your thoughts on the graceful witness possible even when one might disagree with certain beliefs or choices of the person's they're standing up for.

Its something, I hope I might continue to learn from in my own interactions with fellow Christians of different theological views. I've made a practice, ironically enough of speaking up for more conservative evangelical views here at Harvard, even if I don't share many of them. Half of my papers in classes on dialog have done this, actually, weird. :) I joke with Jeff here, who's been making similar attempts to represent certain liberal or mainline voices fairly at "conservative bastion" Gordon Cromwell. :)

Still, I think there's alot I can learn... I might be able to discuss these things in theory, but "on the ground" its often more complicated. What if a Christian group wants to partner with some of my Christian communities here on campus, and we come from different viewpoints on big issues? I think, as ever personal contact/relationships, and trying to maintain empathy and an open mind is important- if not a sure solution in every case.

On defending another across different faiths or ethical viewpoints, as you note, it does get trickier. I touch on this in my Sych-blog post, which got added to the list a little late, on my own wrestlings over Christian responses to indigenous groups reclaiming their traditions in light of the horrific history in place. For me depending a people's religious freedom, esspecially in cases where your faith or society has taken it away, is itself a form of mission.

Situations like the Jewish Shoah, and the Cultural and Literal Holocaust of the First Peoples of America, both enacted within the culture of "Christendom" seem, in my mind to stetch our conceptions of justice and mission to the extreme. For me, grief, repentance and humble solidarity in the face of what happened is the first and primary place of mission there for the immediate future.

The Catholic Church modeled this esspecially in Jewish-Christian relations in Vatican II and with Pope John Paul II's healing words and actions. I haven't seen a similar response towards America' indigenous peoples, whose genocidal conquest the Catholic Church officially sanctioned in Papal Bulls to Spain and Portugal. While Catholics are hardly the only voice needed for healing, the fact that to my knowledge these documents were never revoked is a horrific reminder and pain for indignenous peoples.

This group had been trying to pursuade JPII to revoke them... I havent' heard more recent news but will share if I do.

Pastor Phil said...

Cerny Mike bro,

Good reminders. If only we could all follow the path of most resistance to our own judgmental ways.

Pastor Phil said...

Alan I agree with you fully, but I wonder this: What might it sound like to the follower of another religion to be compared with prostitutes, and sinners when we identify why we should hang out with them. Is this a type of judgment upon their religious choice, which they might find offensive?

Pastor Phil said...


Your last point is perhaps the first for all of us. I think perhaps we respond to cultural of personality differences thinking that someone is hateful, when perhaps they may simply be straightforward, or convinced, or some such other attitude or personality trait.

Pastor Phil said...


I hear your concern on this point. I too have friends in the gay community, and have been angered by the way they have been treated.

Alan Knox said...


You make a great point. But, I would not think we would identify people as Samaritans, prostitutes, tax collectors, etc. It seems that Jesus hung out with people. It was the religious leaders of his day who pointed out that the people that Jesus hung out with were the wrong sort of people. Of course, Jesus didn't see them as "the wrong sort of people", but he did see the religious leaders as "the wrong sort of people".


Kieran Conroy said...

That's possibly one of the coolest things I heard about Jesus all semester (and I'm going to seminary, trying to "hear" alot :P). Good stuff. :)


Pastor Phil said...

Alan and Kieran,

I not only agree with this statement, but live by it.


Kieran Conroy said...

Amen, brother. :)

I'm not sure when I'll be up next, a number of weekend interviews/conferences for my end of semester projects are getting pretty busy, but just wanted to you know know you've all been in my thoughts. Come summer, hope to enjoy some of those open spiritual-space hours your starting too.