Oct 122010

[The following is a guest-post from Peter Dybing. Peter identifies himself as a human activist who happens to be Pagan rather than a Pagan activist. His activism has included direct action on environmental issues, civil rights issues and freedom of religion. His first activist role was a meeting with the Governor of Colorado concerning school integration in 1969 at eight years of age.]

Recently our community was justifiably proud to see a Pagan Chaplain receiving an award for religious pluralism from the Hindu American Foundation. We have come a long way in gaining acceptance for earth-based traditions.

This event was also an opportunity to view how another minority community organizes its activities in support of gaining religious tolerance and acceptance on a national scale. Hindus number around two million in the United States, roughly twice the number of the Neo Pagan community. In terms of organization, the Hindu community has banded together and created a national voice on Hindu rights and acceptance. This organization has an office in Washington DC that works full time addressing the issues of civil rights, tolerance and religious pluralism.

So here is the question; are we as a community even half as effectively organized to gain or defend rights for Pagans?

It is tempting to provide a long list of organizations and individuals doing great work for Pagan rights in response to this question. Each of these deserves our respect for all they have accomplished.

Instead, lets address if this plethora of activities is keeping us from acting with unanimity? Is our approach analogous to a group of organizations playing Capture the Flag, where there are wins, but only by small groups and not the community as a whole? Does our duplication of effort squander resources and reflect that Paganism still needs to mature into an effective movement?

Addressing these questions requires putting aside both organizational self-interest and ego. There is no threat in engaging in discussion about the effectiveness of our efforts. Creating a process where our community can “keep eyes on the prize” serves the community as a whole.

We have many traditions that rigorously defend their independence in spiritual practice. This is a strength that allows all to have a voice and a personal relationship with the Devine. We should however, examine if this culture has led to the inability to truly unify in supporting goals that serve the entire community.

The Hindu community is a good example, a religious tradition that has many paths (sects), coming together to achieve their common interest. Efforts have been made to form an organization that serves this role in our community. None have achieved widespread and focused support. Each is a player in the metaphorical game of capture the flag.

There are, on the horizon, new models for achieving our goals. One of these is the example of Patrick McCollum, with a proven track record of fighting for the rights of all Pagan’s, Rev. McCollum sets an example for unity of action. While I personally support his efforts, only time will tell if we are ready to express our collective intent and financial support community wide.

Currently, Rev. McCollum and many other Pagan Rights Activists are spending their own funds, sacrificing their home lives and personal financial security in support of our rights. These individuals, who enjoy our spiritual support, deserve our corporeal support in the form of funds and active participation in creating a unified Pagan Rights Organization.

This call to action is not intended to address the efforts of our diverse community of Interfaith Activists. We as a community are well served by having interfaith representatives from different paths. It is in the area of civil rights, legal challenges, lobbying and legislative action where we need to come together as one voice.

If you are involved in guiding a Pagan organization, at any level, this is a call to start a discussion on how to unify our approach to Pagan rights beyond the boundaries of our traditions and established efforts. Avoid the temptation to offer your group as the answer, be open to unique ideas, and work together with other organizations in a unified effort.

One million Pagans, with one voice and collective intent can achieve the goals we have in common.

In Service to the Goddess,
- Peter Dybing

  15 Responses to “Guest Post: Capture the Flag, Our Approach to Pagan Rights?”

  1. Peter wrote:
    So here is the question; are we as a community even half as effectively organized to gain or defend rights for Pagans?

    No offense to anyone intended, but an awful lot of pagans I’ve met are barely able to organize a search party for a way out of a paper bag with a map, compass, GPS, and a flashlight. The term ‘herding cats’ also comes to mind when trying to organize things with them.

    Granted this may be an issue with the ones I have met, but I’ve read quite a bit of horror stories that say to me that it isn’t exactly an isolated incident.

  2. [...] Peter Dybing, writing as a private citizen, and not as a representative of COG, wonders if Pagan organizations are too invested in playing “capture the flag” in our quest for Paga…. “So here is the question; are we as a community even half as effectively organized to gain [...]

  3. are we as a community even half as effectively organized to gain or defend rights for Pagans?

    Sadly, no.

    Eran touched upon the reason I believe we, as Pagans, have been woefully ineffective in organizing for our rights.

    I wrote a post on a similar topic last week. Seemingly, Pagans have a hard time organizing is due to so many individual Pagans come from religions in which following a leader is considered paramount to being a good ____ (enter name of favorite Abrahamic religion). Because we value individuality, and individual worship, above all we resist becoming one voice for whatever right we may want individually such as a community, certain rights, etc.

    Also, because we tend to worship by ourselves or with small groups, disseminating information about a lawsuit, rally, etc can be difficult. Certainly the internet has help to bring us together but there are so many websites and organizations out there it’s difficult choose. We are overloaded with choice it seems.

    We are so fractured, so distrustful of organized leadership that we shy away from standing up for ourselves because we don’t want to go it alone.

  4. Damn. I should’ve closed the italic tag after the question mark. Sorry about that.

  5. Is there a real problem here? I don’t see any evidence in what Peter Dybing has written that we are in need of what he is proposing.

    In fact, it really would have been a good idea for Dybing to list some of those “organizations and individuals doing great work for Pagan rights in response to this question.” Who among these feel that there is a need for One Big Pagan Rights Organization? Do any of them?

    Also, the situation with Hindus in the US is very different from that of American Pagans. American Hindus are already strongly rooted in different ethnic communities, and they are already religiously organized around dozens (or maybe hundreds) of Temples that often have hundreds or even thousands of members each.

    And, although I have a great deal of respect for the Hindu American Foundation, I don’t see it as a model for Pagan Rights advocacy. It is not an umbrella group formed out of already existing Hindu advocacy groups, but rather a stand alone (and for the most part self-appointed) group. This is in no way a criticism of the HAF! They totally rock and it is completely understandable for Pagans to wish we had something like it.

    • Dybing points out how some of our Pagan-right pioneers have had to sacrifice financially and with time for their (“our”) vvictories. A pan-Pagan philanthropy that funds operations like the Lady Liberty League could bring mass resources to bear on this problem, which is one you don’t see the Hindus, Jews, etc, having — they know how to organize community-wide support. Call it the Pagan Rights Fund. Might even qualify for a 501(c) exemption?

      • Obviously any new group will compete with all existing efforts — unless those existing groups all somehow (“magically”?) find some way to seamlessly combine their efforts.

        The thing to do is to work directly (and, at least at first, quietly, or at least not publicly) with those who are already laboring in the fields. Getting the right people on board should be done first before “starting a discussion” on teh interwebs. IMNSHO.

        • A new group cannot really be said to compete with the organizations it underwrites. And the point of it would be to reach out where others have not, using established philanthropic techniques (of which I am wholly innocent, but I know they’re out there).

  6. Eran hits on the reason, but along with the Author of the article fails to mention the fact that in addition to us in the Pagan/Heathen community being highly individualistic, is the fact that in many cases, we don’t really have as much common ground as say the Hindu, Christian, or Muslim sects have, frankly because none of us are really “sects” of Paganism. There is real difficulty in pushing for a unified Pagan Rights movement, because what a Wiccan might consider their right, would run counter to what an Asatruar would consider a right, or a Hellenist might disagree on a right of behavior with a Khemetic, and so on and so forth.

    An example: Lets say we have an Asatru community which feels it has the right to bear weapons at all times, and we have a Wiccan community that feels it is wrong to possess any weapons. Both feel they have the Right to for the State to accept and enforce their Rights, therefore, which unified position do these communities take? Which position does the larger Pagan/Heathen community take in gaining those “Rights?”

    Or another example: Let’s say we have a group of Hellenists (or some other group) that feels there must be a strong hierarchy of leadership and membership and a Germanic group that is pretty much anarchical, only electing a leader for a single gathering. Which path does the larger Communities support?

    The simple answer is that we can’t make a unified front while we are dis-unified groups, and the very reason we are drawn to Paganism/Heathenism is to go back to a more natural, non-ridged way of worshiping and living our lives with the natural forces and ancient deities. Still, for all the weakness of the “Capture the Flag” method, we don’t have to worry about facing the same problems that most communities with Civil Rights Groups have: namely of having those groups gain power and start working for the “Groups” benefit while ignoring the needs or desires of those of the “Community” they “Serve.”

    • Alchemist, you raise some good points. It’s true Pagan traditions are not sects of some big thing called “Paganism?” But it this a distinction that makes a difference? The social structure seems pretty parallel.

      About different concepts of Rights: The Pagan Rights Fund that I suggested about in my reply to Apuelius would make an internal decision about what to back. This decision would in no way bind any other Pagan; it’s a philanthropic bureaucracy grinding its wheels. Even the ACLU turns down some worthy cases out of resource limitations.

    • There’s nothing stopping groups from working together on issues of common interest. Gun rights would be a contentious issue but I doubt that Pagan communities would have a hard time disagreeing with, for example, a school board voting to impose a curriculum that claims that separation of church and state doesn’t exist and that we are a Christian nation. We can always find ground to agree on when it comes to issues that impact us all.

      • “We can always find ground to agree on when it comes to issues that impact us all.”

        Agree. And even on issues that may be specific to a particular range of belief systems, there will be people willing to be supportive in order to establish a precedent that is beneficial on a wider scale. I know a few people who thumbed their noses at LLL’s work on military gravestone pentacle markers on the grounds that “it’s not my symbol”; I know many more who supported the effort in hopes that the ruling would make it more likely that their symbol would also be approved in the future.

        LLL is already doing the job, and has a professional administrative structure in place that works. Touching on your comments in the article, I think a combination of ego, insularity, distaste for centralized organization, and over-extended policies of self-sufficiency are the biggest things keeping smaller groups them from working in tandem with them.

  7. FINALLY!!

    Thank you for your post Mr. Dybing.

    I think that encouraging a wider dialogue within our communities and community organizations about how we can work together for the goals we share is an important and long neglected step in our quest for true Religious Freedom and Equality for Pagan and Heathen folks. We can increase the communication within communities and between organizations, building stronger Pagan and Heathen Interfaith communities, and also reduce the duplication of effort.
    Where some organizations might combine into a larger and more effective and focused whole, others might simply keep very open lines of communication… working together on issues from different angles.
    My prayers and my pen are at your service Mr. Dybing.


  8. I love the idea of one million pagans. However, just the gathering of Pagan/Heathen groups together would be a challenge, and I think there are those out there who still don’t feel safe to reveal their identities. I think there are a lot on the outskirts that would and are not represented, but this is one reason to have a group representing the good of everyone. I think even having a meeting of all the groups working for the good of all Pagans/Heathens (or whatever niche it is) would be beneficial. Share ideas, models, etc. Why should it be a competition? That’s what baseball is for.
    This effort for Pagan/Heathen rights would also be an action of love and tolerance for eachother, and the interfaith activists would probably want to participate because it is the action behind tolerance that makes the difference. I don’t think the interfaith thing and this subject should be seperated. There are people with the passion to see all of us protected. These are the people to talk with about this subject. My fear is that we will become like Christianity or other religions down the line. Methodists versus Lutherans, Catholics versus Penticostals, etc. They are seperate, but not in a good way. They rip eachother up behind the pulpit. They waste time on all of that. Time and life energy (unless they want to prevent gay marriage – then they pool their resources). I would love to see an effort being made to make sure ‘we’ do not treat eachother the same way. One way to do that is to help eachother. Humanity should learn from its mistakes. I don’t think there is anything wrong with seeing what progress we can achieve.
    If we don’t have a civil rights office in DC, are any of us ever going to hold office? I know…a lot of Pagans are ill at the concept of power and control (and some like it too much). And then, there was Babylon, Persia, and Germany…blah blah blah.
    We should have a place to go for our rights that is at heart a Pagan/Heathen group. I think it would be beneficial, and I think we could work it out. What I wouldn’t want to have happen is try it, then it just flop in a year or something like so many projects in Africa. That would really suck. So if this isn’t an interest to the greater community, maybe not, or maybe down the line.