Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Difference and discrimination, part II: Pagan Friends and Pagan Quakerism

(continued from part I)

Sweeping Pagan Friends and discrimination against Pagan Friends under the Meetinghouse rug

No one has actually sat down to have a real conversation with me about this next issue, which I find interesting.  And I have had lots, and I do means lots, of long and chewy conversations with other people -- in person, over email, on blogs, on Facebook, and on email list-servs -- about theaology, Paganisms, Quakerisms, where different Paganisms and Quakerisms intersect, where they don't, and more.  In July, I had two weeks of travel in ministry where sometimes eating was a challenge because in-depth or far-ranging conversations over meals didn't leave much time for actual eating.

So even though I "do" conversations, people don't generally have this conversation with me; but some Friends are happy to report to me that other people have this concern:

If I, S: [insert here: am a Pagan Quaker; am publicly identifiable as a Pagan Friend; am a member of a Meeting; am not a member of a Meeting; have a ministry; have a ministry that is under the care of a Meeting; have a ministry that isn't under the care of a Meeting; and so forth];

Then that creates... Pagan Friends.  Who don't exist until I name them.

What's more... that, by definition, creates Pagan Quakerism.  Which is a whole new "-ism."  A whole new kind of Quakerism.

And those create... divisions and differences among Friends.  That don't exist otherwise.

That don't exist until I, S, [insert here: am a Pagan Quaker; am publicly identifiable as a Pagan Friend; am a member of a Meeting; am not a member of a Meeting; have a ministry; have a ministry that is under the care of a Meeting; have a ministry that isn't under the care of a Meeting; and so forth].


You might notice that no one seems concerned about other facets of my ministry.  In fact, much of the time, when someone talks about my ministry, there's only one aspect of my ministry that even registers for them.  Not my music ministry.  Or my healing ministry.  Or my spiritual counseling ministry.  Or my LGBTQ ministry.  Or my crochet ministry.  Or my other interfaith ministry.  Nobody seems concerned about my identification as a lesbian Friend, or a non-theist Friend, or a Jewish Friend, or any of my ministry there, either. 

The "P word" is the one everybody gets their knickers in a twist over. 

Okay, folks:

First of all, Pagan Friends exist.

In fact, the first time I attended Quaker worship as visiting Priestess and Witch, and introduced myself that way at the rise of worship, folks from that Meeting came up to me and introduced themselves to me as Quaker Witches.  They existed before I even knew they existed -- I sure didn't invent them.

Pagan Friends existed long before I become active in the Religious Society of Friends, and they'll exist long after I die.  They would have existed even if I'd never been born, even if I'd never gone to Meeting once in my entire life, even if I'd never become deeply involved with the Religious Society of Friends, even if I'd never seen, and been led to respond to -- minister to -- a spiritual need among Pagan Friends.

Pagan Friends have been members and attenders in all three Monthly Meetings (in three different Yearly Meetings) I've been actively part of, before I ever arrived there.  Since I've moved most recently, I've become involved with a fourth Monthly Meeting (in a fourth Yearly Meeting), where there are several intensely Earth-focused people who give passionate vocal ministry in Meeting for Worship, and in Meeting for Worship with Attention to Business, about trees and other plants as living beings.

What's more, everywhere I travel among Friends, Pagan Friends come out to me.  And increasingly often, when I visit among Pagans, Pagans with connections to Quakerism come out to me, too. 

But there's more you need to understand.

Secondly, Pagan Friends experience discrimination in the US as a whole, and within the Religious Society of Friends as well.

We experience that discrimination whether or not we talk about it, whether or not we name it.

When we don't name it, when we are silent in the face of that discrimination, all our silence does is compound our oppression.  It doesn't protect us (Lorde); it does not make our oppression go away.  Silence does not make discrimination cease to exist.  All silence does is allow discrimination, prejudice, bigotry, and oppression to flourish. 

Yes, sometimes Christian Friends are asked to keep silent about their experience of the Divine.  No, that's not the same.  And yes, that is wrong, too.  I have written about that, I have given vocal ministry about that, and if you know me, you know I am a staunch advocate in the Testimony of Integrity for speaking the truth of our experience of the Divine.  Even though I'm not always very good at it myself. 

But part of the truth is that if you are Christian -- as when you are straight, of European descent, male, middle-class, temporarily able-bodied, cisgender -- you are part of the majority, dominant culture in the US.  There are Christians all around you.  They may not be your particular flavor of Christian, but there are still Christians all around you.  Your god's birth day is a national holiday, unless you're Orthodox, for example.  When people around you, even non-Quakers, say "God" or "religion," they usually mean your God and your religion, or something pretty close to it.

Those experiences are almost never true for Pagans.

It's extremely unlikely that you will have to use personal or vacation days for your ordinary religious holidays.  Or that your boss will roll their eyes or protest the difficulty to the department when you request those days off, question you closely about why you want them off, or give you a sermon for taking them off.  It's also extremely unlikely that you will lose your housing, your job, a promotion, custody of your kids, your business, your livelihood, your family, a court case, a disability claim, the ability to work as a chaplain, or something else equally vital or basic, for being Christian.

But those things happen to Pagans in the US every day, simply for being Pagan. 

No, I'm not making that up, and no, I'm not exaggerating. The facts are well-documented.

So when we experience discrimination in our Meetings or other Quaker communities, in our own spiritual homes and spiritual communities, you bet we get angry:

  • When we're asked not to give vocal ministry about our experience of the Light, the seasons or the Goddess or Herne or Cerridwen or Beltane or Samhain or Solstice, at the same time that other people give vocal ministry about the seasons or Christ or Jesus or Advent or Lent...  
  • When we're told "You have to give up your prior religion" or "You have to give up your former Gods," but other Friends -- especially Christian Friends -- aren't told that... 
  • When we're told that retaining certain cultural trappings, such as Feasts for the Beloved Dead at Halloween or May Poles on May Day, isn't appropriate for us as Quakers, at the same time that our Meetings host dinners for Christmas or Easter or the Day of the Dead, or when we can dance around a May Pole at a Quaker college on May Day; or when we can't have committee meetings or Meeting events on certain days because other people have Christmas or Easter dinners with their families, and nobody else in our Meeting seems to see a problem with that... 
  • When our memberships are blocked, in spite of our clearness committees being in unity, simply because of our theaologies; or when our memberships are revisited in our Meetings, or are called into question by Friends outside our Meetings, in ways they aren't for other Friends...
  • When we're denied ministry support or oversight committees, or minutes of religious service, where if you swapped in the word "Christ" or "Spirit," there would be no discomfort; or when we can have a minute of religious service or letter of introduction, but only if it includes the names of Gods we don't experience or theologies with which we don't identify -- ie, if we violate the Testimony of Integrity...     
  • When we get asked, over and over, "Why do you have to use that word?"...
  • When Gatherings of Christian Friends or Young Friends or LGBTQ Friends are allowed free or reduced-fee use of Meetinghouse space, but our Meeting community has a months-long conflict over whether or not a Gathering of Pagan Friends can use the Meeting's space at all, even if that Gathering pays full market price...
  • When a Meeting has comfortably welcomed other non-Christians into membership, including Buddhist, Non-Theist, and Jewish Friends, or non-Christian Friends without other labels, but suddenly insists Christianity is a membership requirement when there are a number of openly Pagan Friends attending the Meeting, or sojourning, transferring, or requesting membership...  

...then yes, of course some of us get angry.

And when other Friends are asked not to give vocal ministry about Jesus or Christ, from our pain we might agree, or from our pain we might get angry on their behalf.

Pagans don't create the discrimination and second-class citizenship we face by coming out of the "broom closet," any more than lesbians, gay men, bisexual people, or transgendered people create the discrimination and second-class citizenship we face by coming out of that closet.  We don't create the discrimination and second-class citizenship we face by naming it, any more than LGBTQ people do, than women do, than people of color do, than poor people do, than disabled people do. 

However, by naming that discrimination, particularly in our Meetings and in other Quaker organizations, we do a number of things:
  • We help create social justice.
  • We help create spiritual growth.
  • We walk the Testimony of Integrity and the Testimony of Equality.
  • We help our Meetings walk the Testimonies of Integrity and Equality.  Indeed, we demand that other Friends walk those Testimonies with us.  
Most of all:
  • We help our Meetings grow in the Spirit.  
  • We help create vibrant spiritual community where we can participate in Quaker worship joyfully and truly be in spiritual communion together.
Next, part III: Minority Quakerisms?

1 comment:

RantWoman said...

Not to be fixated on the P word, but do you crochet or do music or healing differently because of your Pagan spirituality? If so, I for one would be interested to hear more about that experience. In any case, if you wrote more about these activities on your blog, do you think you would have more conversations about them?

When you talk about counseling, how do you distinguish what you do from all the long conversations you have about Paganism?

But then my mind wandered to life as an interpreter: once in awhile especially in connection with conferences or cultural exchanges, I wind up basically interpreting over meals. This is ROUGH because the interpreter will be doing half of all the talking in a conversation. I try to avoid this but when it happens, I eat a lot of soup and drink a lot of tea.

I know meals at gatherings are supposed to be a big social time but I often find the dining hall way too loud for many kinds of conversation and I have to protect my sanity by not lingering.

Have you ever considered options for protecting mealtimes and making space in other ways for all the rich conversations?