(Originally published in 2006, by The Chalcedon Foundation)
Is a historic Protestant denomination in America falling into neo-paganism? Teetering on the brink of apostasy? And if it is, why should that concern the rest of us?
A little over a year ago, the Episcopal Church USA — already deep in controversy for having America’s only openly homosexual bishop — sank deeper when Christianity Today reported that the ECUSA’s official website (www.episcopalchurch.org) sported openly pagan rituals dedicated to a “Queen of Heaven,” complete with offerings of raisin cakes (see http://www.virtueonline.org/portal/modules/news/print.php?storyid=1565/ for a reprint of Ted Olsen’s Oct. 27, 2004 article/). The ritual begins:
“Mother God, our ancient sisters called you Queen of Heaven and baked these cakes in your honor in defiance of their brothers and husbands who would not see your feminine face.”
The Bible specifically condemns such rituals in Hosea 3 and Jeremiah 7.
“Blessed be the Lady who births, redeems, and sanctifies us.”
“Mother Jesus, have mercy.” (If you have doubts about the historical reality of Jesus, this will not help you.)
And a communion service that ends with the words “Blessed be” — a tag line usually associated with the neo-pagans practicing Wicca, or witchcraft (see http://www.angelfire.com/tx/AuoraSB/, a Wicca site named “Merry Meet and Blessed Be!”).
But none of this, said Rose, is intended for actual use in church services. “It’s only an experiment, a thought experiment,” she said, “a new way of looking at faith.”
In the National Cathedral What about activities that go on inside a church, under the church’s auspices?
It would be hard to name a more prestigious house of worship than the Washington National Cathedral, site of President Ronald Reagan’s state funeral, seen by millions on television.
Not televised was an event held there a year ago, “Sacred Circles: A Celebration of Women’s Spirituality” (where in the Bible do men and women have different “spiritualities”?), Feb. 18–19 (see http://www.cathedral.org/cathedral/sacredcircles/index.shtml/). Here the ECUSA hosted some 40 “workshops” to celebrate “women’s spiritual community.”
“It was meant to be interfaith,” Margaret Rose said.
Mark Rushdoony defines syncretism as, at best, blending foreign elements into Christian terminology; at worst, adding a little Christian terminology to alien beliefs opposed to Christianity.
Where does “interfaith” end and syncretism begin? Consider the Sacred Circles workshops, held under the roof of the National Cathedral. A few examples will suffice.
*“Feeling for Animals,” led by the author of The Sexual Politics of Meat: A Feminist-Vegetarian Critical Theory.
*Various workshops featuring Zen and other forms of Buddhism, yoga, and “human-centered services [to] celebrate the sacred power of women.”
*Assorted experts on Sufi (an Islamic offshoot) meditation, and Hindu dance.
*“Sacred Mysteries … Symbolized by the nurturing and mysterious earth … you will honor your body as a fertile vessel with yoga practice and centering. Participants are asked to bring an object that symbolizes their fertile journey.”
*“Feminine Wisdom from the Kabbalah” (Jewish mysticism).
*Buddhist prayers and chants (by a United Church of Christ chaplain) and the Sufi Alchemical Retreat process.
Into the Labyrinth Currently gaining popularity in the ECUSA, the practice of “walking the labyrinth” can now be found in Episcopal cathedrals coast-to-coast — from Grace Cathedral, San Francisco, to the Cathedral Church of St. Paul, Boston.
The labyrinth is “probably New Age, and certainly very, very old,” Director Rose said. “But we don’t really take positions on things that individual churches do. If it’s all right with the rector, and the bishop — I mean, they’re the ones who would have to decide.”
As used in ECUSA churches, the labyrinth is not a maze designed to trick you, but a convoluted, complicated, one-way path. In the words of a leader of the “labyrinth movement,” it is a tool for meditation and “a twisted path to wholeness.”
Veriditas, operating out of San Francisco, is “The Voice of the Labyrinth Movement” (see http://www.veriditas.net/): its website offers a wealth of information.
As explained on the Grace Cathedral website (http://www.gracecathedral.org/labyrinth/), the “labyrinth walk” is done in three stages: Purgation (“releasing, a letting go … shedding thoughts and distractions”); Illumination (“meditation and prayer. Receive what is there for you to receive”); and Union (“you enter the third stage, which is joining God, your Higher Power, or the healing forces at work in the world”) — nothing about God the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.
It’s supposed to be a Christian exercise, copied from labyrinth designs found in medieval cathedrals; but Grace Cathedral also equates it with the Native American “Medicine Wheel,” the “Never Ending Circle” of pre-Christian Celts, and Jewish Kabala, dating it back to 4,000 years ago. The Reverend Dr. Lauren Artress, founder of Veriditas, calls the labyrinth “A Medieval Tool for the Postmodern Age.” Dr. Artress did not respond to our request for a comment.
When she’s not promoting the labyrinth walk, Dr. Artress promotes similar exercises, such as the “Women’s Dream Quest,” hosted by churches in Houston, Galveston, Memphis, Seattle, Portland, and Canada, according to the Veriditas website. It is described as “an interfaith celebration of women’s spirituality,” utilizing various chants and yoga exercises.
What happens during a labyrinth walk? The Women’s Ministries website, under the heading “Liturgies Using Feminine Images” (see http://www.episcopalchurch.org/41685_60497_ENG_HTM.htm), offers a short article by Sandra Thomas Fox (identified by Margaret Rose as “just an ordinary church member” who felt “alienated” by the “patriarchal language” of the Bible and church liturgy), describing “a powerful experience” she had during her walk. In 2001 it inspired her to write a Eucharist and Morning Prayer Service, about which she said, “If one feels that reading these services is blasphemous, I can only say that writing them felt even more so.” Blessed be.
The labyrinth, references to various goddesses, and the rest is “all ancient stuff,” Director Rose said. But she would not say it was blasphemous, or syncretistic.
“The God we love in Jesus Christ … can take that which is sacred [in non-Christian religions] and use it,” she said. “My personal relationship with Jesus allows me to explore my faith in many ways.”
For many persons, with the sanction of the church, those ways include rituals involving pagan fertility goddesses, yoga, Muslim, Jewish, and Buddhist prayers and recitations. It is difficult to see the difference between this and King Jeroboam I making Israel to sin by setting up golden idols in Bethel and Dan, to give the people an alternative to going to Jerusalem to worship at the Temple of the Lord (1 Kings 12:25–33).
What Does It Mean? For when I shall have brought them into the land which I sware unto their fathers, that floweth with milk and honey; and they shall have eaten and filled themselves, and waxen fat; then will they turn unto other gods, and serve them, and provoke me, and break my covenant.
God knew that the children of Israel, after they’d left behind the rigors of wandering in the wilderness and settled down in the Promised Land, would grow soft and conceited and morally slothful, and turn away from Him. It seems the same thing has happened today throughout the Western world. Compared to earlier periods, we have enjoyed a generation and more of unparalleled peace, prosperity, and technological progress.
The soft, flabby, jaded nations of the West have come up with societal innovations that are clearly the products of a cultural hothouse: “gay rights,” animal rights, feminism — and now, increasingly, religious syncretism tending toward outright paganism.
Why should we care what happens inside the ECUSA?
This denomination, whatever its eccentricities, is still part of the universal Church, the Body of Christ, and belongs by right to Jesus Christ the Lord. As Christians, we have a duty to pray for its redemption — and to assist and encourage anyone who actively works for it. Even the ECUSA contains faithful Christians who suffer for the cause of Christ; they deserve our support.
These pagan practices may spill over into other denominations — maybe, someday, your own. There is some evidence that this may already be happening.
These practices constitute “another gospel” (Gal. 1:6–9), which competes with the true gospel we are commissioned to proclaim (Matt. 28:19–20). What is a potential Christian convert in Nigeria or Indonesia to think when he sees goddess-worship in the churches of the West? Talk about feasting on meat from the shambles! And here at home, this false gospel is an obstacle to the reconstruction of the church.
Finally, we have a prophetic duty to warn our own people of the consequences of replacing genuine Christian doctrine with syncretistic mumbo-jumbo.
But if the watchman sees the sword come, and blow not the trumpet, and the people be not warned; if the sword come and take any person from among them, he is taken away in his iniquity; but his blood will I require at the watchman’s hand. Ezekiel 33:6