Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Let's Not Get Too Cozy with Pagans? Foursquare Church and The Gathering

A few years ago I was privileged to meet Phil Wyman, Pastor at The Gathering church in Salem, Massachussets. Phil has a wonderful ministry that uses dialogue and other methods to engage the local Wiccan community and other Pagans. We referenced Phil's work in a footnote for a chapter on Wicca in our book Encountering New Religious Movements (Kregel Academic & Professional, 2004). At the time I met Phil his church was part of the International Church of the Foursquare Gospel. But this has changed. In a recent article in The Salem News, Phil states that the denomination has decided to sever the affiliation of the church with their organization. During the Phil's emotionally-laden meeting with organizational leaders he was asked how he could be friends with Witches, to which he replied, "We live in Salem. How could you not?"

I suppose for all the talk of conservative evangelicals about wanting to be like Jesus and extend fellowship to those considered spiritual outcasts in society, as many perceive Wiccans and Pagans, apparently this pushed the boundaries of acceptability and comfort for the Foursquare folks. This kind of response by churches to cutting-edge ministry to groups that are bogeyemen for evangelicals is unfortunately not uncommon.

Interested readers might want to visit Phil's website to learn more about his ministry, including his dialogue with Pagans called "Circle and Cross Talk."

Update Nov. 1: Phil recently made me aware of the original article that broke this story which appeared in The Wall Street Journal. The article can be found here. The article has some interesting quotes, including a statement from a United Methodist pastor in Salem who stated that Phil appeared "too familiar, too cozy, too amicable with that [Wiccan] community." Another comes from a Foursquare official who stated that "Phil had a strategy and methodology that was significantly different from how we perceive church life." Both of these statements are revealing, and indicate where not only Foursquare Church may be on different approaches at interacting with Pagans, but where many evangelicals are likely at as well.


Sally said...

I am greatly encouraged by Phils approach and saddened by the (predictable) reaction of the church in this case.

Shiloh Guy said...

I find it interesting that the area ministers are condemning Phil for his fraternization with Wiccans and witches while whatever they have been doing for the last 300+ years doesn't seem to have had much effect. They don't seem to recognize the fact that shunning these people has had little impact for the gospel! What? Did they think the witches would just shrivel up and go away if they stayed away from them? These people are NOT the enemy! We do not struggle against flesh and blood. When, for Christ's sake (please read that literally), will people realize this?

Pastor Phil said...

Thank you so much for the encouragement. We'll take all we can get up here. ;-)


Anonymous said...

You can see Phil's response to another blog about this situation.