I was a Jesus Freak, a passionate theologian, and a Southern Baptist minister. I worked hard to convert pagans. The pagans won.

Discovering magic as a witch with an intimate knowledge of western christianity I explore the juxtaposition of these two faiths. Christianity and paganism alike are undergoing dramatic changes with parallel trends, conflicting challenges, and a growing concern for interfaith dialogue.

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Dear Christians, can you see me?

I was married five years ago. Now I am not. My divorce was awful (surprise). My ex-husband was abusive. I had a bad experience in bible college. I was hurt by the church.

When I talk to Christians, I inevitably face a myriad of questions about these experiences, followed by condolences and apologies and reflections of how sad and hard it must have all been. It was sad and hard. And in the years that followed I have healed, I have learned, I have grown, I have fallen in love, with wonderful people, with my life, with my community, with Spirit, and with myself. I am happier now than ever before. My life is not a collection of knee-jerk reactions to pain.

So I had an awful divorce (ever heard of a pleasant one?) but that is not the reason I am polyamorous. After my divorce I spent a year of self-imposed celibacy. I worked through painful memories, learning forgiveness. I released much anger, sadness, disappointment, and fear. After a while I felt excited at the prospect of once again meeting a man to whom I would make a life-long commitment of marriage. But instead I met someone with whom I chose to explore polyamory. It was with much trepidation that I stepped outside of the familiar framework of monogamy. To my surprise I felt an instant resonance with polyamory. It was like a missing piece of my life snapped into its proper place. Last week I celebrated my 2 year anniversary with one partner and am looking forward to celebrating 3 year with another one soon. Yet in the eyes of my Christian friends, these relationships are reduced to a pathological response to a divorce that happened half a decade ago.

I spent the weekend with a Christian friend who used to know my ex-husband and naturally we spoke of him. It was the first time in a while I had thought of him. I spent a decade of my life with him, but he is now a character of my past, not an active part of my present. Whenever I spoke casually of one of my partners, my friend changed the subject. Throughout the weekend she refused to acknowledge any of my partners and the role they played in my life. In her mind, I was still stuck in the pain of my divorce. My relationships were patches over that pain, not worth acknowledging outside of their bandaid function.

Similarly, when I revealed that I went on a date with a woman, I was told stories of gay people who found “healing”. I’ve heard all of those stories before. And we know that most ex-gays become ex-ex-gays before too long, and the largest reparative therapy group shut its doors this year. But for the record, yes, I was hurt by a man. And since then I have met countless wonderful men. Some have become close companions, lovers, and partners. I did not go on a date with a woman because my ex-husband hurt me. I went on a date with her because she has feline eyes and chocolate skin that makes me dream of slow walks on the beach in the freshness of sunrise (or in short, I’m smitten). Her compassionate spirit, sharp intellect, her passion for life, and her grounded sense of humor draw me toward her. I long to get to know this marvelous human being and explore how we might be in each others lives. I want to know her because of who she is, not because of something that happened in my past.

And yes, I was indeed hurt by the church, badly. I became bitter and hated Christianity. I spent an entire year avoiding contact with Christians, flirting with militant atheism. But over time I worked on letting go and forgiving. Then I came to a Christian church that is different and I saw a beautiful new side of Christianity. I experienced people really following Jesus and welcoming me into their community. I reconciled with Christianity and the church. And then several months after making my peace with Christianity, I started exploring a Pagan path.

According to my Christian friends I am only Pagan because I was hurt by the church. Never mind that it was at the summer solstice that I felt like I had finally come home. Never mind that I prayed for God to guide me. Never mind that my prayer for a sign was answered a few days later when I found an antlered crown in my small backyard in the city of Oakland. Never mind that I found myself “drawing down the moon” before I knew what that was. Never mind that I heard the call of Brighid at Imbolc, shaking, because I knew I was stepping into my true calling. Even the most profound and sacred experiences are dismissed as pathology.

And when it comes down to it, there are only three ways of understanding a religious experience that doesn’t fit your theological worldview.

1. Pluralism – they really happen and tell a different story then your theological framework. For  evangelical Christians this is not an option. It conflicts with the modernist understanding of absolute truth and the emphatic rejection of relativism and pluralism.

2. Deception – the experiences exist, but they are not what they seem to be. We might experience them as positive and healing, but really, they come from Satan. They are caused by demons clothed in light to deceive us and lead us down the wrong path.

3. Pathology – the experiences didn’t really happen. We imagined or twisted them so we can hide behind them. We conjure them to avoid facing our pain and the absolute truth of evangelical Christianity.

So I understand the temptation to pathologize my choices, my relationships, my experiences, and my religion. But please understand, when you do so,  you are invalidating me. I am not a helpless victim of my past without your Jesus. When you offer me understanding and compassion for my past, you’re not addressing my present. You’re showing compassion to the person you think I am, not to me, speaking to you, vulnerable, right here, right now.

Finally, that anger you sense in me is not proof for your story; it is the result of your story. I am no longer angry at what Christians did a decade ago. I am angry because of what you, my Christian friends, are doing right now. I am angry that you have created a self-validating loop in which you define me and when I object, it serves as your proof. I am angry that you have reduced me to a flat character in your knee-jerk narrative. I am angry that you take my respect for your religion for granted, all the while insisting that you know “the truth” behind mine without wanting to learn a thing about it. This new religion teaches me to know myself. It is hard work and the fruits of this work are precious pearls. You know what the bible calls those who would trample them. So please, my Christian friends, would you set aside your narrative for a moment and see me?

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As unlikely as it sounds, I was born and raised in an evangelical Christian family in Germany. Everyone knew me as a Jesus Freak. No one was very surprised when I went to the US at age 19 and came back a tattooed and pierced fundamentalist Christian, betrothed to a Chrispie (a Christian hippie, that is). I was a virgin the day we married. Five years later I graduated bible college in highest honors, with academic awards and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. I took my theology and trauma on the road and deepened both by traveling the country in a  yellow school bus. For three years I lived as a nomad, playing music at festivals, teaching seminars at conferences, and bringing my expanding understanding of Christianity to churches from Portland, Oregon to Portland, Maine. I learned that Christianity in America is as diverse as the Amish exorcising school busses and catholic priests breaking into government buildings - I saw Jesus in the oddest places. And then everything changed and I ended up a polyamorous witch owning a chocolate factory in California.

Comments

  • Ted Czukor
    Ted Czukor Tuesday, 17 September 2013

    I feel your pain, Annika, and appreciate that as a former Baptist minister you understand, more than most, items #1 - 3 which you enumerate above. Your cry for an unbiased hearing is valid, though I'm sure you realize it will go largely unsatisfied. When someone is convinced that everything you say comes from the devil - well, what are you going to do?

    Funny story about Baptists: some years back, before I had found Paganism, I was attempting to get my Yoga class into Grand Canyon University here in Phoenix. I didn't realize that the school was a Southern Baptist institution. The President favored me with some very nice letters, but said there was no way they would allow something that might convert people to an Eastern religion. I protested that I was a Christian, too - having been raised in the Methodist Church. It was then that I encountered, for the first time, the attitude prevalent in these parts that the only true Christian is a Baptist; I, on the other hand, was only a Methodist.

    I perform weddings now. Often, when I ask the religious backgrounds of bride and groom, I will hear "I was raised Christian, but my wife is Catholic."

    So you think it's hard to be heard as a Pagan?!!!! :0)

  • Sharon Knight
    Sharon Knight Tuesday, 17 September 2013

    Very eloquent!

  • Dennis Williams
    Dennis Williams Wednesday, 18 September 2013

    At the fear of being labeled as "christian", I understand. I don't know at the present time right where I am at, but my Christian sister "prays for my soul so I won't go to hell", because I am at a time of my life wondering, who was there before there was Jesus? I liked your article, As Ms Knight says, "very eloquent", and well written as well. I've so much to learn. Thanks for the lesson.

  • Annika Mongan
    Annika Mongan Monday, 07 October 2013

    Dennis, many blessings on your journey. A book that I found very helpful is "A Churchless Faith" by Alan Jamieson.

    http://www.amazon.com/Churchless-Faith-Journeys-beyond-Churches/dp/0281054657

  • Lizann Bassham
    Lizann Bassham Monday, 23 September 2013

    Thank you for sharing your story Annika. I was lucky in that the Christian denomination I became part of in middle school is very open and accepting. I find myself now both an active ordained Christian minister and an active Reclaiming witch (the witch part I've been all my life, the Reclaiming part I actually found at my Christian seminary when they brought Starhawk in to teach a class in worship and ritual in the 1980s). I too am in lovely poly relationships and am part of the beginnings of conversations in my Christian denomination around how to welcome other poly folk and minister to all folk in a variety of relationship configurations. Slowly the world does indeed shift.

  • Annika Mongan
    Annika Mongan Monday, 07 October 2013

    Reclaiming is the tradition I have been studying with as well, and I am also still involved in a progressive Christian community. As Ted pointed out on his blog, the original message of Jesus is often lost among contemporary churches, but I found it alive in the practice of the Reclaiming community.

  • Ted Czukor
    Ted Czukor Monday, 23 September 2013

    This is fascinating to me, Lizann - as you will know if you've followed my debate with Anthony on my "Common Ground" blog. What, pray tell, is your open and accepting denomination?

  • Camille
    Camille Wednesday, 02 October 2013

    I joined this site just so I could follow your excellent and thought-provoking blog. I want to read more!

  • Jeanine Byers
    Jeanine Byers Thursday, 07 November 2013

    I was drawing down the moon before I knew what that was, too!! And I am SO glad I have found your blog. Everything you've said in this post resonates with me, and as a former Christian, I understand it from both sides. I'm glad for you that you have healed those hurtful experiences in the past. As a healer, I know how difficult it probably was to do so. And I'm glad to read of your present happiness. Thanks for sharing your story in this blog.

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