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Pagan, Christian clergy urge interfaith understanding

(RNS) — A Pagan and a pastor stroll right into a church.

It’s not the setup to a joke.

It’s simply one other Thursday night for the Rev. Ethan Stark of Heathens Towards Hate and the Rev. Andy Behrendt of Trinity Lutheran Church.

The 2 clergymen — Stark, ordained by the worldwide heathen group The Troth, and Behrendt by the mainline Evangelical Lutheran Church in America — hosted “A Pagan and a Pastor: A Necessary Conversation” Thursday night (Sept. 30) at Trinity in Waupaca, Wisconsin. The duo answered some regularly requested questions on their faiths and addressed misperceptions every custom has concerning the different.

It’s a dialog they’re scheduled to repeat in October on the Parliament of the World’s Religions, which will probably be held just about for the primary time because it initially convened on the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago.

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They hope such conversations will assist encourage understanding and higher relations between Christian and pagan religion traditions.

“The extra we are able to find out about folks of different faiths and even non-faith, the extra we respect about our personal custom,” Behrendt mentioned at Thursday’s occasion, which was streamed on Trinity’s YouTube channel.

Behrendt’s path to his Christian religion was fairly simple: His dad was a Lutheran pastor earlier than him, he mentioned. For him, the church was at all times a spot of affection and acceptance, although he famous that has not been everybody’s expertise.

Stark was raised conservative Jewish in Israel however mentioned he realized as a teen he felt extra related to the divine in nature than he did whereas studying from Scripture at his personal bar mitzvah. That finally led him to paganism and heathenry — neither of which, he defined, needs to be considered as derogatory phrases.

“We’re pagan, we’re proud as such, and it’s solely a pejorative relying on who makes use of the time period,” Stark mentioned.

The 2 met about three years in the past when Stark and his spouse, who’s a Christian, had been planning an interfaith wedding ceremony and requested Behrendt to co-officiate.

The pastor was somewhat nervous to do it at first.

Behrendt mentioned he didn’t know a lot about paganism. He’d lumped “godless” pagans in with atheists, which he admitted is ironic: Some pagans — like heathens, who honor the gods from pre-Christian Norse and Germanic religions — worship many gods.

Stark mentioned he has encountered worry from Christians earlier than.

He additionally famous it cuts each methods. He’s encountered “quite a lot of anti-Christian sentiment in paganism,” he mentioned.

Many individuals come to the pagan neighborhood from Christianity as a result of they don’t really feel welcome there, based on Stark. That features LGBTQ folks and ladies who’re barred from management in lots of conservative Christian traditions, he mentioned. (The ELCA ordains each.)

Behrendt apologized, noting, “Now we have the half about needing a savior proper as a result of we undoubtedly are flawed and we make quite a lot of errors. Jesus was so completely, completely about loving folks, and if he did get pissed off with any person, it was nearly totally as a result of they had been a part of the spiritual institution and due to their mistreatment of others.”

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For the pastor, it was fantastic attending to know any person like Stark — who, it turned out, was in no way threatening — and to raised perceive his beliefs, Behrendt mentioned. A few of these beliefs, like their ideas of divinity, are very totally different, he added. However they care deeply about quite a lot of the identical points, too.

For the pagan, it comes again to an Icelandic saying: “All energy to all relations.”

“We’re all interconnected. We’re inseparable, whether or not we’d wish to consider it or not, and that speaks each to humanity and to nature,” Stark mentioned.

That extends to folks with differing beliefs, too, he mentioned.

“It subsequently is sort of, like, incumbent upon us to method others in a greater understanding that no matter a distinction of 1 God or many gods, we’re nonetheless — no less than to us theists — youngsters of the divine, be it a single guardian or a divine household that sort of watches over you,” Stark mentioned.

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