I am often amazed when Christians find it so amazing that I converse so readily and easily with Pagans. I gather many assume conversations with Pagans are unavoidably adversarial and therefore scary and best left to “experts”. But this need not be the case. It helps though if you follow a few simple do’s and don’ts:
Do … focus on relationship
God is about relationship so relationship is where we should begin. Instead of charging in with an adversarial stance (or alternatively, a timid and fearful stance) in anticipation of an adversarial response, why not dare to anticipate the opposite? Funny enough I find that works 90% of the time. Pagans are people, just like us, and they appreciate a personable approach.
Do … listen in order to understand
Have you every had one of those conversations where the other person was more interested in what they were about to say next than what you had to say? Not pleasant is it. Well, the tip here is, let’s not be that “other person”. Let’s actively listen. But less obviously, also be mindful that 80% of communication is nonverbal and the average Pagan is far more sensitive and attuned to symbolic communications than the average Evangelical. Don’t just listen to what they say; listen also to what they do.
Do … clarify what are the most important questions
Conversations can easily ramble on all over the place if we’re not careful, never getting to the meaty stuff. Try to go deeper. Find out what really divides each of you, not just what seems to. I’ve had many pagans say to me, “Oh I could never be a Christian because I love experiencing divinity in nature and expressing my spirituality through creative arts, incense burning and meditation.” I’ve said, “That’s curious, because I love those things too, as a Christian.” Going deeper however, I might find that they find polytheism more compelling and plausible than monotheism, or find Messianic particularity offensive. Then we’ve found some more substantial issues.
Do … focus on Jesus
Focus on Christ, not church; on Jesus, not Genesis; on the Messiah, not the wars of Moses and Joshua, on the Lord, not abortion. Or where we must focus on such things, make sure we link it back to the life and teaching, death and resurrection of Jesus in the course of the conversation. Christianity is centred on Christ, so lets keep Christ-centred as we communicate what it means to be a Christian.
Do … share your own story
Your story is what makes the good news real, plausible, and hopefully even attractive. Your story is what takes grounds the resurrection story in lived (and liveable) experience. Share yourself as you share God; share God as you share yourself.
Don’t … be so quick to demonize
There is nothing worse than confusing witchcraft with Satanism, or reciting urban legends about child sacrifices, or demonizing practices you understanding nothing about. It destroys conversations. If you do something so stupid, give up now. And while you’re at it maybe refresh yourself on that commandment about not bearing false witness. Yes, there are some things Pagans do which are incompatable with Christianity, but please, please, please, check between real things and imagined things before you launch into critiques. If you don’t know the difference: ask first.
Don’t … dump on women or gays or the environment
Pagans venerate nature goddesses as well as gods and tend to be strongly eco-feminist. You may not agree with their values in every respect, but a bit of tact and diplomacy goes a long way. And consider, even when you consider them unbalanced, who created the imbalance that necessitated this counterbalance? Yes, us! So maybe we can learn a thing or two from them here.
Don’t … expect others to find the Bible as authoritative as you
Not only should you not expect Pagans to take the bible as authoritative as you do, you should not expect them to take any scripture as authoritative as you do. Pagans tend to take experience as more authoritative than scripture and the Wiccan “Book of Shadows” so many have heard of is closer in function and form to Anglican prayer books and Catholic missals than the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.
Don’t … expect every Pagan to be the same
Given the priority of experience over scripture (or should I say general revelation over special revelation) Paganism is consequently very diverse, even in terms of which goddesses and gods are worshipped. Not only are there many different traditions (such as Wicca, Druidism and various forms of Pagan Reconstructionism) but even within each tradition there is much variety. Don’t assume one Pagan speaks for all Pagans.
Don’t … be afraid to challenge, as long as you’re respectful
Through many years of experience I’ve found Pagans aren’t beyond being challenged, provided the challenge is respectful, and preferably within the context of relationship. The words of Peter are very pertinent here: “But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect.”
So I hope you find this helpful. Nothing is guaranteed. With such a history of bad blood between Pagans and Christians I can’t promise you won’t have a bad experience, that you won’t ever experience rejection, even following these tips. But I can say that most the time, if you approach Pagans with the right attitude, you’ll find them quite open to conversation about things of the Spirit.
Postscript: In this article I have focussed on “how” we might improve conversations with Pagans, from a Christian perspective. But in the conversation that followed, here and elsewhere, many have challenged “why” I would seek such a thing, having made huge assumptions about my intent, presuming it to be myopically focussed on evangelism (which I assure you it is not). If that describes you, before rushing to judgement I would ask you review John Morehead’s article on eleven reasons for dialogue, which closely reflects my own view, which you’ll find here and here. I would also ask, that where you feel critique is still necessary, to please keep it “constructive” rather than “destructive” and model that which you would ask of others.