Friday, April 07, 2006

Confessions of a Post-Christian Episcopalian

The following is Maury Johnston's response to the recent attacks on his character:


by Maury Johnston

It seems as if the battle skirmishes are becoming more frequent; the religious warfare of revisionist vs. reactionary is increasing in its intensity as liberals and literalists face off in a series of spiritual showdowns leading up to the Great Conflict (otherwise known as General Convention 2006). While I lobbed some opening salvos in my initial article Facing the Spectre of Schism, and my follow-up essay entitled Playing the Numbers Game, the enemy forces have regrouped for a frontal assault upon my spiritual identity, my religious character, and my supposed hidden agenda as a willing servant of the Wicked One, a wolf in sheep's clothing insinuating his way into the sheepfold of the Church in order to decimate its flock with the ferocious teeth of false doctrine and heresy.

Recently several right-wing Anglican websites have published an "expose" of yours truly, complete with supposedly scandalous revelations of my past religious affiliations. Included in this list are some of the most incriminating discoveries: I have written a book on the Holy Grail and Goddess spirituality under the pen name of Shadwynn and I was a Wiccan priest for many years. And just exactly what does that prove? That I have a past? That I have varied religious interests? And the crime is...?

It is sadly amusing to see the conservative reactionaries get so worked up over my past. It makes me feel like the object of a celebrity gossip show on night-time television. Such a compliment! But they seem to forget that if I was really trying to hide something from the public I would have been a little more deceitful and concealing. Anyone can get on a computer search engine and put in my name(s) and come up with all sorts of interesting tidbits. Interpreting the data, however, is another matter. For instance, several have accused me of currently leading a group called "Keepers of the Cauldron" and "Grail Quest Wicca" and a Neo-Pagan magazine called Hallows. Sloppy research on their part: all of these groups and/or entities have been defunct for at least a decade. Still another person expressed concern over my "disturbing" poetry, which was totally misunderstood since the poem she referenced was, in reality, an oblique critique of Neo-Pagan pantheism! But then again, distortions, half-truths, and innuendoes make for more juicy journalism; a religious version of the gossip-mongering tabloids.

But what about the "bottom line" of implied accusation: that I am a Wiccan worming my way into an unsuspecting church in order to introduce a virus into its theological and devotional cybersystem? For those conservatives in the Episcopal Church who thrive in the environment of a "seige mentality," this implication makes it easy to project the pall of a sinister shadow over the good intentions of the GLBT community of faith by suggesting some alliance between them and Wiccans, Neo-Pagans, and other groups to totally subvert the edifice of Episcopal tradition. Nothing, of course, could be farther from the truth. But then again, this latest bru-ha-ha on the part of the obnoxiously orthodox is simply a ploy to divert attention from the issues of how we view sexuality in the context of spirituality, and scripture in light of secular knowledge and science, and how the Church must deal with these realities in a way which inclusively mediates divine grace into the lives of our GLBT brothers and sisters through egalitarian acceptance at all levels of Church life. Those are the real issues.

As far as personal spiritual status is concerned, my identity is twofold: I am baptized and I am a believer. That's all anyone really needs to know, and that should be sufficient. But my opponents have an obsession with catagorizing and stereotyping the dynamic of the human spirit and its capacity for growth, where religious labels and/or libels become the defining moniker of a person's Godward identity. They see only the outward trappings of denominational difference; God sees only the hungering heart.

Every seeker of the Holy has a history with God, a spiral of one's spirit ever reaching outward and upward into the spiritual universe in an attempt to see the Unseeable and touch the Lover who whispers to the stardust in their souls. Their feet often take them on pathways new, strange, and unfamiliar as they seek for traces of their Beloved in the varied sacred precincts of the world's religious impulse. Hindu, Buddhist, Sikh, Wiccan, Jew, Muslim, or Christian, the yearning for intimate union with divinity is the same. My pilgrimage has been no different from multitudes who have preceded me as they attempted to satisfy the inner longings of the pilgrim heart. I have searched through many forms of religious expression and come away with something valuable from each of them; and for that I am now hounded and harassed by the self-appointed inquisitors for Anglican orthodoxy.

Yes, I was (note that--past tense) a practicing Wiccan priest for many years. It was a wonderful, growing, and spiritually productive time in my life. Through it I learned to envision Divinity in its immanent numinosity throughout the beauty of Creation; through it I had my eyes of inner revelation opened to the feminine attributes of Godhead, shattering the truncated tunnel-vision of patriarchal projections upon the nature of Deity; through Wicca I learned to be in love with the changing seasons, the rhythms of life, and the feeling of being free and unfettered in the moonlight of a summer's night. But alas, I later came to realize that, for me, it was Christocentrically deficient. I missed the Jesus I had known and loved in earlier years. (What most of my detractors fail to grasp is that I would not have left Christianity years ago, but for the fact that its homophobic frame of reference made me so uncomfortable in an extremely hostile environment--the very same environment my opponents are attempting to preserve within the Episcopal Church. Wicca, on the other hand, was very accepting of sexual orientation diversity.)

During those years of my Pagan sojourn, I never lost a sense of Christ's presence with me. Over time it led me back to the Episcopal Church, one of the only Christian traditions in which I felt an appreciation for its ritual aesthetics and its theological elasticity. This should not be read, however, as a re-embracing of the parochial mindset of institutional "churchianity," with its doctrinal rigidity, spiritual imperiousness, and moralistic oversimplifications. In that sense, historic Christianity is, in many ways, little more than a repressive instrument of the spiritual and societal status quo, a hotbed for the germination of the seeds of homophobia, and a theological dinosaur which has to be dragged kicking and screaming into the realities of the 21st century. In returning to the Episcopal Church, I most emphatically did not re-commit myself to such a perverted, religious monstrosity. The Christ whom I adore is far more expansive than the humanly forged strictures and idols of Christian traditionalism. For that reason, I can say that I am, in a paradoxical sense, a post-Christian believer in the luminous Jesus who transcends the religious niches that both culture and the Church have attempted to place upon him. Ultimately, this makes me a post-modern, post-Wiccan, post-Christian, Christocentic mystic who worships at the feet of the One Who Was, And Is, And Is To Come (Revelation 1:8). If that poses problems for my detractors, they'll just have to pray about it and deal with it as best they can. That's their quandary, not mine. If they want to argue about me, they can take it to Jesus for arbitration--after they do some repenting for bearing false witness against me by making out my past to be my present.

Even now I can sense the stalking presence of my right-wing, Episcopalian enemies with their bellowings and threatening tirades against me, like Saul of Tarsus as he stood accusing Stephen, a young man who saw different, more expansive visions of Jesus and who even dared to call the smug religious clerics of his day to repentance for their injustices and spiritual blindness. But we know the solution that Saul and his hypocritical minions had in mind to rid themselves of such a prophetic witness against them as they eagerly waited with a stone clenched in every hand (Acts 6-7). Jesus had a few things to say about throwing stones, if I remember (John 8:1-11). Even more disturbingly, he had this uncanny knack for scribbling with his finger in the sand; apocryphal legend has it that with one look at what he wrote, the righteous dropped their stones and walked away....if only my accusers would have the wisdom to do the same.

Thank you, Maury. With that, as far as I'm concerned, this subject is closed. If you have further questions, I ask that you contact Maury privately. We need to end this Inquisition. Maury has been an "issue" long enough. It is time we allow him to become once again a flesh and blood brother in Christ.


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