Friendship – extending it towards others of different traditions/faiths

20 years ago, I got a big scare. My wife, who I had married and handfasted with only a year before, returned to her Christian faith. She had been part of a church that was quite abusive, in her previous time as a Christian, and had become Pagan, in part as a response to that experience. So my concern was that she was returning to the kind of mindset she had been a part of before, which would quite possibly mean the end of our marriage. Indeed, lots of Christians and Pagans we knew at the time were predicting that our marriage would end, and that this would be a good thing.

In my state of panic, I went looking for a venue where Christians and Pagans were engaged in more constructive dialogue, so I could ask questions and see if there was a way we could overcome what seemed to be an insurmountable challenge. I discovered a pastor based in Salem, Massachusetts, who graciously absorbed all my fear laden rants about the evils of Christianity, and pointed out biblical passages that made it clear that there was no need to fear for our marriage. I found me a friend who neither denounced my beliefs, nor compromised his own.

I learned a lot from that experience and from my Pastor friend. I learned that it is possible that those who attack, do so from a position of fear and ignorance. I learned that gracious friendliness is a good foundation to begin to allay fears and address ignorance.

At the time, I thought I had known all there was to know about Christianity, and it was quite a surprise to find that was not the case. It made me realise how little I knew about other faith traditions, and how easy it was for people from other faith traditions to know little about Pagan traditions. So began my involvement in interfaith dialogue. It was quite hard, initially, as the limited, and often inaccurate notions of what and who Pagans were made people from other faith traditions wary of dialogue with a Pagan. But my own experiences had taught me to look for that, and given me some idea on how to navigate that obstacle. For the most part, friendly interest and a gracious framing of what people said of their understanding of Paganism (however hostile that may have seemed) as coming from a place of limited understanding and possible fear, has helped me to make a great many friends from other faith and belief traditions, and give a clearer understanding of Pagan traditions an who Pagans are. It doesn’t always work, as some people seem to place a great deal of their sense of identity in what they oppose and are quite unwilling to hear that their opposition is rooted in misinformation and misunderstanding. But it works often enough for me to feel that potential friendship is a good approach to dialogue with people who hold different beliefs and worldviews. Indeed, some of the friendships I have made have led to people from other faith traditions becoming very solid allies and advocates for Pagan inclusion in settings that are often dominated by more widely practiced faith and belief traditions. In turn, I have found myself advocating for, and defending other faith and belief traditions when they have been subject to hostility due to inaccurate perceptions. After all, that’s what friends do for one another.

When we leave our prejudices behind, we can discover friends we might not have considered before. Planting seeds of friendship can be a great thing to do in spring.

Mike Stygal
Former PF President