The pastor of Fairview Community Church has taken a leaf out of Pope Francis' book concerning grace--if God's grace covers everyone, including atheists and non-Christians, it covers Wiccans too. Wicca is a federally recognized religion in America. Its members either practice in groups (covens), or are solitary. It is a nature centered religion that recognizes Deity as both male and female–God and Goddess, and from there Wiccans and Pagans follow their own chosen pantheons, or in the case of this one, simply God and Goddess. Besides being a grossly misunderstood religion–Wiccans and Pagans are often characterized as Satan worshippers who sacrifice animals even though there is no Satan in the Wiccan faith–and animals are considered to be as sacred as humans–the truth is Wiccans believe Satan to be a human created Christian construct and thus, not a part of their religion. Some Wiccans don't like to be called witches, others are proud to reclaim the name from centuries of smear tactics by the Catholic church whose militaristic arm, the Inquisition, burned thousands at the stake for being different, non-Catholic, or who practiced herbalism, or healed people when male physicians could not–a person in Europe could be killed for being a witch for nearly any reason. The European witchcraft hysteria was a disease that was spread to early colonial America and erupted in 1692. Christian magistrates responded to the witchcraft hysteria in Salem, Massachusetts, by sentencing innocent women and a man, some young, some elderly, to be hanged (the man was pressed to death) as witches based on spectral evidence, European methods of witchfinding, and the hearsay and wild accusations of "devout" Christian neighbors. (To experience what this would have been like had you been accused, you can experience it here courtesy of National Geographic).
Because of this negative perception of Wicca, Wiccans as a minority faith in a nation of Christians who serve in the military had to fight for over ten years to get the right to put their religious symbol, a pentacle, on military gravestones when killed in action. "The Wild Hunt" at Patheos.com explains:
In April of 2007 the Bush Administration agreed to a settlement that paved the way for approval of the Wiccan pentacle to be engraved on government-issued headstones and markers, bringing to an end a campaign that lasted a decade, one that saw casual anti-Pagan demagoguery morph into government policy. Nearly five years after that historic settlement, the number of grave markers with the pentacle emblem, according to iPad-formatted news magazine The Daily, has risen dramatically.
They do not tend to proselytize, or try to convert anyone to their religion. Yet in a nation that prides itself on religious freedom, the average Wiccan or Pagan, depending on the area in which they live and how inclusive their areas are, dare not walk down the street wearing their pentacle openly for fear of being fired from their jobs, and/or being discriminated against, and this antipathy against Wicca, fed by hundreds of years of superstition, fantasy and misinformation, has precluded meaningful national dialogue amongst Christians, Pagans and Wiccans.
Reverend Sarah Halverson has taken a step that no other pastor we at GodDiscussion know of has seemed to take–interfaith dialogue with Wiccans to learn more about Wiccan and Pagan traditions and beliefs. When a "concerned citizen" expressed what was politely noted in the Costa Mesa Daily Pilot as "concern" (it was probably more like horror and outrage) over Wiccans being in a Christian church, Reverend Halverson didn't beat around the bush. She printed the below letter in response:
Dear Concerned Christian Neighbor,
I want to genuinely thank you for your care and prayers for our church. I'm glad our sign caught your attention and made you stop and think.
I am not worried about your fears of me leading my church down the wrong path. We obviously have different beliefs about God.
That said, we believe that there is power in knowledge. We believe that our faith cannot be destroyed by learning about the faith of another. And ultimately, we believe that God and Jesus call us to be open, loving and tolerant (if not affirming!).
We also don't believe we'll go to hell because we have a Wiccan in our sanctuary and have a conversation about her faith.
And while we may seem incredibly radical to you, we're actually in line with a major Christian denomination: the Roman Catholic Church. Pope Francis just reminded us that Jesus challenged the disciples' intolerance of those who were different.
"Jesus broadens the horizon," the pope affirms. "The Lord has redeemed all of us, all of us … not just Catholics. Everyone! … Even the atheists! Everyone!"
So, you see, even the pope knows that God loves us and redeems us all. Therefore, the most important path is the path of righteousness: doing good deeds, caring for the poor, seeking justice and living peace.
If he's not worried, neither am I. But thank you for your concern and prayers.
I will reciprocate and pray for you. I'll pray that we might live in a community that values our differences and seeks to find our commonalities, that we will refuse to let our own ignorance cause us to live in fear of the other, and that we Christians can follow in Jesus' example.
Finally, perhaps you, like me, know very little about Wicca. If that is the case, I invite you to join us on Sunday morning for our Interfaith Dialogue Day to learn more about the tradition. I think that all of us will leave more enlightened than when we came in.
A follower of that radical peacemaker, bridge-builder, justice seeker and bearer of love: Jesus, our brother and teacher