Pagans as Patriots: Freedom vs. Prejudice

The U.S. Air Force recently released new data indicating that Pagans (sometimes called Wiccans) have nearly 1,000 registered members, more than Muslims or Jews. Of course they should have their own chaplain in the military since there are Pagan adherents serving their country. Pagans are as entitled to having their religious needs met as are Southern Baptists. Religious freedom is religious freedom is religious freedom. That cannot be said too frequently today.

Paganism is very poorly understood. It is sometimes called “the Old Religion” as it claims to be a revival of indigenous religious traditions violently suppressed by Christianity as it spread throughout Europe. Contemporary Pagans or Wiccans celebrate diversity and put a high premium on personal responsibility and not doing harm. Feminists such as Feminists have been prominent in contemporary Wicca or Paganism and emphasize the repressed Goddess traditions and the spirituality of women as expressed in witchcraft.

Paganism has an important role to play in American religious culture as it explicitly regards women as capable of embodying the sacred. It has been my personal experience that conservative Christianity in particular regards all women, regardless of their faith, as vaguely Pagan. Christian conservatives do not value women’s religious leadership as highly as that of males. Women are called the “weaker vessel” and considered less capable of embodying the sacred. This is why women are not ordained by Catholics and conservative Protestants. Women are deemed incapable of “imagining Christ” despite the fact that Genesis 1:27 clearly states that both female and male are created in the image of God.

Prejudice against Pagans or Wiccans runs high in American public life. In Maine there has been a recent attack on a woman who is a Pagan adherent and a leading political figure. The headline “Democrat Country Chair Worships Witchcraft Goddess; Promotes Paganism” reveals the depth of the prejudice against both the religion and the woman who is exercising her religious freedom in her choice of worship practice.

The religious faith practice of any candidate for public office or political official cannot be a reason either for voting for or against him or her. As always, as Dr. King pointed out, it is the content of character that counts the most. I’d vote for a Pagan if I liked his or her political platform and thought he or she was a trustworthy person, period.

It is a very good idea to have Pagan or Wiccan chaplains in the military precisely because this religion is so poorly understood and subject to so much prejudice. Individual Pagans report feeling unwilling to share their faith in the current climate and they have the right to have their religious needs met.

In addition, Pagan or Wiccan military chaplains will educate the chaplain corps on this religious tradition. We have graduated a number of people from Chicago Theological Seminary who have become military chaplains and they have told me that military chaplains themselves often have to minister to the needs of those whose faith is not their own. The military is too large and diverse and, especially in combat areas, stretched too thin for there to be chaplains for each specific faith in all areas. Chaplains have to be educated to serve the religious needs of those of many different faith traditions. Pagan military chaplains would not only meet the needs of their specific adherents, they would serve to educate their fellow chaplains on Paganism or Wicca and improve the service overall.

It is time to overcome the centuries long prejudice against this religion that values women’s religious leadership, is dedicated to individual freedom of choice and to not doing harm.

Susan Brooks Thistlethwaite

Susan Brooks Thistlethwaite

President, Chicago Theological Seminary

The Reverend Susan Brooks Thistlethwaite, is the 11th President of Chicago Theological Seminary. She has been a Professor of Theology at the seminary for 20 years and director of its graduate degree center for five years. Her area of expertise is contextual theologies of liberation, specializing in issues of violence and violation. An ordained minister of the United Church of Christ since 1974, the “On Faith” panelist is the author or editor of thirteen books and has been a translator for two translations of the Bible. Her works include Casting Stones: Prostitution and Liberation in Asia and the United States (1996) and The New Testament and Psalms: An Inclusive Translation (1995). Since the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, Thistlethwaite has been working diligently to promote peace, including a presentation at the U.S. Institute of Peace, which appears in one of their special reports. Most recently she edited and contributed to Adam, Eve and the Genome: Theology in Dialogue with the Human Genome Project (2003). Close.

 

Susan Brooks Thistlethwaite

President, Chicago Theological Seminary

The Reverend Susan Brooks Thistlethwaite, is the 11th President of Chicago Theological Seminary. She has been a Professor of Theology at the seminary for 20 years and director of its graduate degree center for five years. Her area of expertise is contextual theologies of liberation, specializing in issues of violence and violation. more »

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