(NOTE: I realized when I reread this on the livejournal feed that I had not attributed “Witches Are Real People Too.” It is by a Phil Wyman. This has also been corrected in the text.)
When I wrote about my skepticism concerning “Beyond the Burning Times,” I didn’t expect much of a response. Mine is an irregularly updated blog that usually contains essays on whatever arcana happen to be swirling around my disordered mind at the time, and occasional items that could be considered “political” or “issue oriented.”
I appreciate the comments, especially those from the Evangelicals. But here’s the thing that keeps catching in my mind: in any dialogue between say, myself and a hypothetical Evangelical interlocutor, I can’t help thinking that somewhere in the background of said’s consciousness is the thought that “this person whom I am speaking to will suffer for an eternity in a lake of burning sulfur if they keep believing as they do.”
For my part, this looks like fairly poor psychic hygiene (for both of us!) and a bit of a buzz kill in terms of mutual understanding. I also know of no way to interpret the Christian narrative literally that does not include this fate for the “unbelieving.” So I’m a bit stuck as to the motive behind an invitation to a dialogue with someone who, I have every reason to assume, thinks this or something so close to it that the details are hardly important. The key theme being “suffering for eternity.”
Really, I’m confused. What would a person who believes that a fellow human is going to endure pain and agony for aeons and aeons and then a couple more for bad behavior because they haven’t taken a simple step toward Christ possibly hope to gain from talking to me other than conversion? I apologize, but I sometimes write fiction, and if I were to create a character with a deep, compelling reason to take a particular course of action and then have them not take that action, I don’t think I could sell it. The context would have to be fairly elaborate, bordering on the kind of thought experiment I hate. (The Saw movies? Can’t stand them. Turned the first one off because it was contrived and I just didn’t care what happened to these unrealistic people in this unbelievable situation.)
Well, after reading John Morehead’s response, I found my interest pinged by this statement (emphasis mine):
And we are not attempting to understand just enough of Paganism to combine it with a nicer approach in order to convert people. Yes, we feel an obligation to be obedient to Jesus’ command to “make disciples,” and in so doing share the pathway of Jesus when it is appropriate and desired, but we do not view people as mere objects for evangelism. There is a far broader agenda at work here. To assume otherwise perpetuates the stereotypes we desperately need to move beyond.
I poked around the links on his blog, trying to get some idea of what the agenda he speaks of might be. This is, after all, a strain of Evangelical Christianity that I’m unaware of, so it seemed appropriate to try to find out something about it.
The first article that seemed appropriate and Mission Statement-like is by Mr. Morehead and is entitled “Ministry to New Religions in Religiously Plural America: Moving Beyond Refuting ‘Cults.'” I am afraid this did not allay my concerns. The overall idea seems to be that Evangelicals should approach “New Religious Movements” in the same way they approach other cultures with their own religion and worldviews. Which is an improvement over outright apologetics and arguing over which religion is better at the outset. But the goal is still to make new Christians out of say, Hindus or Muslims. The person’s native belief still sounds like a problem to be solved. What changes is that the Christian worldview is framed in culturally relevant terms.
Especially problematic for me was this recommendation:
4.Create formal relationships between missions and “counter-cult” organizations. Missions and counter-cult organizations might explore the establishment of formal relationships that will result in a number of helpful endeavors, including the creation of cooperative internships. Missions organizations can have their staff trained in mission to new religions in preparation for the mission field, and in turn, “counter-cult” ministers can be given internships in a missions organization to incorporate missions principles into “counter-cult” ministry. These relationships will not only benefit missionaries in training and “counter-cult” ministers, but can also serve as a channel for retired missionaries to focus their energies in meaningful ways.
So, are Pagans considered a “cult” to be “countered” here? If the intent here is just to have a conversation, why do I encounter this sort of item. Am I missing something, or just being paranoid. (“Just because you’re paranoid…” yeah I know. They haven’t been after me for years and I wish they’d let up.)
The second article I found is a series called “Witches Are Real People Too,” by a Phil Wyman. First, I realize it wasn’t meant this way, but the title feels quite condescending. It sounds a lot like the “Blacks are just as good a White people” sort of thing you ran into in the late fifties when the mainstream was just starting to get the idea that racism might be, ya’ know, kinda bad. Section 4 is the one that particularly worried me. It basically details the manner in which to minister to Pagans. One is supposed to adapt their presentation to Pagan cultural tendencies. Suggestions include using myths (contrasting them with the Bible) and keeping groups small, leaving plenty of time for discussion. (Yep, we Pagans do like to hear ourselves talk. This post is approaching a thousand words, for instance. There has been much cutting along the way. I will leave to the imagination of the reader how many of those cuts were remove classical vituperatives.)
Again, maybe I’m missing something. Maybe there is a substantive difference between “objects of conversion” and a “missional” field. My reality tunnel is as narrow as anyone’s, and may simply be having trouble adapting to new information. But to me this still sounds like nice ways to tell people that they are committing an error of cosmic proportions and they must mend their ways or suffer for eternity.
Well, the hour grows late and this is just a blog post. Next time I’ll probably have to talk about the “not all Evangelicals are Dominionists” objection. If I haven’t gotten bored with this whole mess yet.