Walking the Path: My Interfaith Journey

A Pagan seminarian's perspective on faith, theology, and facilitating interfaith dialogue.

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Opinion Piece: Privilege

**Disclaimer** I write on many topics, and focus on maintaining an objective stance whenever possible. This is an opinion piece detailing my experiences and feelings from events over the last few months. You don’t have to agree. I do however expect respectful dialogue if there is any on this subject.

I struggle at times to put into words the feelings and experiences I have as a Pagan chaplain moving in the interfaith environment. Or, more recently, as a Pagan existing in East Tennessee. I find when I have conversations with others who understand what it means to be marginalized in some way—either by race or gender or faith or some other qualifier—the necessity of articulating the struggle falls away and there is a moment of just “getting it.” These are not the people who really need to read the things I write about, but invariably they probably are, and I love you for it.

The people who need to read what I am writing are the ones who don’t understand what it means to be marginalized. To be the “other.” That person, those people, these weirdos, those witches…

But, if my story helps in some small way to clarify why and how this is important, then it is worth it.

I have just spent over an hour in a patient’s room this morning. He is Christian, Pentecostal, and very VERY concerned about the nature of heaven and hell, God, and salvation. Throughout our conversation, he keeps throwing out the statement “I don’t know what you chaplains believe,” and I keep listening, not actually answering because in the moment it isn’t important to talk about my beliefs. I am trying to listen to what he needs. Finally, the inevitable question pops up: “What’s your denomination chaplain?”

I used to avoid this question, or deflect it entirely. The fear of having a patient throw me out of their room because of my faith was strong enough to drive my answers to this. Now I’m at a point where I don’t hide it anymore. I tell him I’m Pagan. I tell him what Pagan means for me personally, so he doesn’t make any generalizations. He is flabbergasted that such an educated, articulate, professional woman like myself would not be concerned about Christ and salvation.

“You’ve read the Bible, you went to seminary, and you’re not Christian?” He asks me. “Nope.” I reply. “I can’t understand it.” He says. We keep talking. Around and around we go. I bring him a King James Bible at his request and pray with him for a swift recovery. He says he will keep me in his prayers and I might be surprised if I wake up one day suddenly filled with the spirit and moved to convert. I smile and walk out of his room.

Two weeks ago I am speaking to one of my peers about God. I’ve been told what an amazing Christian I’d make if I would just switch teams. God loves me so much, and I remind my peers every day what it means to be a good Christian. Me—the Pagan—remind my peers of what it means to be a good Christian.

(Subsequently, I performed the marriage of a female veteran to her female partner after multiple clergy members turned them down in our area.)

I had a veteran's son curse at me, and tell me to leave his father's room when he found out I am not a Christian chaplain. On the heels of my departure his parting words to a family friend were "One of those people..."

Last week I experienced deep profound pain over having someone assume it is ok to insert their personal religious beliefs into my life without discussing it with me first. I am intentionally leaving this example vague for personal reasons.

I find I am tired. Weary to my bones of holding the tension of loving and understanding and being in community with the other, even if the other holds beliefs vastly different from my own. I struggle in the clinical pastoral education process to constantly turn the lens on myself and observe what inner biases I may be harboring (something we are encouraged to do in order to enhance our patient care) and this is why:

True and equal pluralism of beliefs expresses that there may be many right ways, and no one system holds the monopoly on how people can or should connect with the divine. What I encounter in these examples is not pluralism, it is privilege. To harbor the belief that your system is the only correct way to connect with the divine, and to have the power to back that up through cultural, social, theological, and educational channels in ways that oppress others (For example, not being able to find clergy to officiate your wedding because you are a same sex couple) is privilege. To assume praying for someone is harmless, or is indeed wanted without even taking the time to ask them first is privilege. To tell me your God loves me, when you know I am a polytheist and worship a different God/Goddess is privilege.

 

This is my struggle. How do I live in community with others who hold a worldview so vastly different, and who in the end see me and others I love as less than, and inherently sinful?

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Denora is currently a full-time wife, mother, and chaplain. She is an eight-year veteran of the United States Air Force, an avid writer and blogger, as well as a fire spinner. She is an active member of Circle Sanctuary's Military Ministries team and the Lady Liberty League Military Affairs Task Force. She is also the Ecumenical Program Director for Oak Spirit Sanctuary of Missouri.

Comments

  • Lizann Bassham
    Lizann Bassham Sunday, 23 April 2017

    Thank you for this post. I am a chaplain at Pacific School of Religion in Berkeley. PSR is a historically christian seminary but has been attracting more and more witches, pagans, neo-pagans, Ifa folk and others. I was hired specifically because I identify as both a witch (Reclaiming Tradition) and a christian (UCC). I am forever gently pointing out the christian privilege and bias even at this institution that prides itself on being so welcoming of other traditions. Slowly we change perceptions, sigh. Blessings to you in your ministry there in Tennessee, some of my ancestral line (full of witches) migrated through there through the 1700s and 1800s.

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