At times I am angry and other times overflowing with joy. Sometimes I'm confused and sometimes I have absolute clarity. This blog will explore our human condition through an investigation of spiritual pain and how to transcend our pain to find peace.
Practice What You Preach!
Several years ago I was facilitating a spiritual discussion group at the Yellow Springs Unitarian Universalist Fellowship. I was serving that congregation as their religious education director and one of the duties I took upon myself was leading this discussion group before we gathered for the weekly service. There was a wonderful gentleman named Chuck who would often attend our discussions and sometimes attend the main service depending on the topic. One Sunday morning after about a half hour of group discussion Chuck spoke up and addressed the small group of about eight or so at the spiritual discussion group with, “You folks talk about being opened minded and affirming of others yet in the course of this discussion you’ve insulted me several times. I’m a Christian. I’m a Fundamentalist. I teach at a Baptist university, and I regularly attend a Baptist Church. And I’m a Republican. Some of you have used these terms like they’re swear words.” After he spoke his mind there was a lot of back peddling. Chuck attended these discussion groups because he valued the discussions and he attended the main service when he was able because he valued some of the topics presented. On those occasions when I was able to preach at the fellowship he would often attend to hear me speak. He was and is a good man. He wasn’t the “enemy,” but he was someone who sought to understand others and dialogue for mutual understanding and respect.
But Chuck presented an important dilemma for Unitarian Universalism and also a dilemma that is pertinent to the Pagan community. How can we advocate tolerance, acceptance and understanding while simultaneously causing alienation and marginalization?
Back in 2010 I attended a conference at Sojourners headquarters in Washington, DC. Sojourners is an Evangelical Christian organization devoted primarily to social justice causes. The conference I attended was focused on promoting education for collaborative faith based social justice programs and encouraged people to travel back to their local communities and organize faith based social justice programs. The point of the training was to get conservative and liberal faith communities to talk to one another and focus on the social justice issues they can agree upon and work together to promote positive change. When I returned to the Columbus, Ohio area I helped with some Immigration Reform events that were truly interfaith endeavors. It was Immigration Reform that was a topic that could unite several very diverse faith groups together for common action. It would have done no one any good to point fingers and shout, “Other.” But together our small voices became a much louder voice. I like to think we did some good by working together. That training at Sojourners was a good opportunity for me and I value that experience.
I have engaged in several discussions over the years on Pagan e-mail lists, at various festivals, at meet and greets, and at other venues where Pagans have gathered. Often these discussions have devolved into discussions where different groups of Pagans were labeled as “other,” and criticized for not being “Pagan enough.” Not being worthy of the label. I’ve grown tired of hearing about how someone is a “fluffy bunny,” or how someone isn’t Pagan enough because they don’t subscribe to the scholarship of some in-vogue academic or “big name Pagan.” Is the relegation of another, or another group, necessary? Or does it do more harm to the community?
I don’t want to give the wrong impression that I think it is never permissible to be critical. I think you can be critical and offer reflective criticism; however, it is the spirit in which that criticism is offered that makes a difference.
The dilemma of, “How can we advocate tolerance, acceptance and understanding while simultaneously causing alienation and marginalization,” is a dilemma seen internally between Pagans but is also reflected outward. When I was in seminary, a United Methodist seminary in the Midwest, I often noticed Facebook threads by my Pagan friends about how Christianity hated homosexuality and their criticism of Christianity turned into outright hatred. This was frustrating for me because I had several friends in seminary who were gay and open about their sexual orientation. Additionally, several conversations centered around, “Christians hate us because they believe we’re going to hell.” The truth is that these statements against Christians are generalizations. Not all Christians are opposed to homosexuality and there are many gay ministers serving churches – sure this is a divisive element in some denominations but being hateful towards Christianity does nothing to support those gay clergy who are trying to make a difference. Likewise, not all Christian denominations are opposed to Pagan and Earth Centered forms of spirituality. When I was working on my chaplain residency program (clinical pastoral education) I found support from my supervisor, a Reformed Church minister, and my peers, two Episcopal priests. I was even asked to present a didactic (seminar) on Paganism for the other chaplain residents. This was at a Roman Catholic hospital. It is an absolute fact that some Christian denominations oppose Paganism and believe that Pagans are condemned to hell and that homosexuality is sinful; however, this fact is not a universal because there is a growing majority of denominations who are much more tolerate and accepting of others. Generalizations can be damaging.
I mention this dilemma because of the often-critical treatment that Christopagans experience within the community. When I started blogging about Christopaganism on my blog I had a few people contact me privately about their “secret” interest in Christopaganism but they kept their thoughts private out of fear that they wouldn’t be considered Pagan enough. I find this fear tragic in a community that values tolerance, acceptance and understanding. It is a dilemma and one that I think is important we become mindful.
Recently, I found myself feeling like I was running through a gauntlet within a local Facebook group by a few members of the group who had a serious problem with Christopaganism. Their problem was centered on their understanding of, “the Bible says this…” What transpired was a litany of Bible passages they felt that condemned Paganism. I responded that I didn’t feel it necessary to “proof text” with them and volley back with other Bible passages. I responded that I didn’t feel the Bible was “inerrant” and that I believed it was written by people struggling to make meaning out of their world. I mentioned that what was important was the hermeneutic one used to interpret the entire text and not taking various texts out of context to use as a “theological weapon” against another.
What does it mean for Pagans if we become what we say we are not? One does not need to embrace Christopaganism to dialogue about it for understanding. What does it say if we become the type of community that expects tolerance from others without practicing tolerance? This is the heart of the dilemma I presented. This same treatment I’m advocating towards Christopaganism should be offered towards other forms of Paganism different from one’s own. As a community, Paganism is starting to mature. We’re starting to “come of age,” and with that comes responsibility. In life it is often common to give youth or adolescence a “pass” from time to time with the explanation of, “Well they’re young…” As a community we’re reaching a point where we can no longer be given a pass. We need to practice the tolerance that we covet for ourselves and when we fall short of this, and we will, we need to acknowledge our shortcomings and keep trying.
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