>> October 13, 2010
I'm writing with emotion after a conversation with my husband, so please bear with me. A lady in our town prayed for a bible-believing pastor to come, for about 20 years.
Not long after we moved here (my husband's first pastorate after seminary), she heard of him and realized her praying had worked. Here he was: God's gift to her. She is a very dedicated Christian and very spiritual, I have no doubt. But she has tried some things that make me feel enraged.
My husband happened to mention in passing that we own some of the Harry Potter books and movies. It does not bother us. I do not believe that by reading well-written FICTION that I am going to start holding seances instead of bible studies. She believes that having it in our house is holding him back spiritually and blessings are not coming because of it.
She proposed to give us a large amount of money for student loans IF we agreed to several of her terms: including getting rid of anything Harry Potter, reading a book on Spiritual Housekeeping, and more. After counseling with other pastors and mentors, we declined her offer. They advised that if she wants to give money as a gift without strings that would be fine, but not with a list of conditions.
The issue has now come up again. This morning she told my husband that she cannot continue to worship under him unless he gets rid of the Harry Potter. He keeps thinking to the verse in Corinthians (forgive the paraphrasing) about when a weaker brother struggles with something, we should give up that something as well. I always thought that this teaching meant "if you go out to dinner with a good friend who's an alcoholic, don't order a drink". Not "if a parishioner thinks the color on the walls is detrimental to our spirituality, change it"!
I'm quite upset about this. I truly feel that she is acting in an un-Christ like manner. I don't think my husband is a worse Christian or a worse pastor because of a novel that sits on our shelf. I'm worried about where this could lead.
Does this mean we remove all things magical, like The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe? Do I get rid of every book written by a non-Christian author? Do I refuse to let my best friend of over 20 years in our house because she is recently divorced? What happens if we choose to homeschool our soon instead of sending him to the "blue ribbon public school" in town?
I feel that if we decide to get rid of certain things, like Harry Potter, it should be our choice of what's best for our family and our house, not because someone has a different opinion. I hate the boundary this lady has crossed into our personal life and I hate the rift this is driving between me and my husband. We have a very good marriage and I certainly don't want something like this to change that.
Thank you, dear Abigail, for your listening ear.
This woman's actions have obviously got you steaming, and for good reason. Pastoral families often face tougher "private" choices than any parishioner, because of our life in the fishbowl.
I see three separate issues in your letter: the sharing, the blackmail, and the material. Let's deal with the sharing first.
At the beginning of ministry, many young pastors (and wives) have grand notions of being totally open with their new congregations. There is lots of buzz about transparency in ministry today. Now I would never urge you to be two-faced, or secretive, or opaque to the people in your church. We need to be consistent, trustworthy ministers of integrity. But families who have pastored for a few years will almost all tell you that they had to learn to keep family information at home - with the family.
Your husband probably had no idea that his passing mention of Harry Potter would cause such a firestorm. And you can't always know what will trigger such reactions. But there is a cultivated art to learning how to be warm, friendly, approachable and interested in people - without over-revealing the details of your family's private life. You never know what some people will do with personal information about you. Discretion is often the better part of wisdom as a pastor's family. You know the text: "Be as shrewd as snakes and harmless as doves." (Matthew 10:16)
Now, about the blackmail.
It is never okay for a church member to hold your husband, his ministry, or your family hostage based on their personal opinions and convictions. You would never do that to them, right? The offer of money in exchange for gaining control over your family life is completely unacceptable. You were absolutely right to graciously decline her offer.
When she came back, saying she could no longer worship under your husband's leadership, I'm sure that hurts. But it is still her choice. Your husband can not, and should not, sacrifice his integrity just to make her stay. If he can say, in his heart, that he has done everything appropriate to encourage her to stay, and she still chooses to leave, then he needs to be at peace that God will sort it out in His time.
Caving to her forceful manner and spiritual extortion will only open your family and your ministry to all kinds of manipulation and distortion in the future. Acts 5:29 is especially applicable here: "We ought to obey God, rather than man."
And finally, the material.
While I would strongly urge you not to make lifestyle choices based on intimidation from church members, when someone raises a lifestyle question that challenges you it's always wise to be SURE that your choice is okay with God.
Many might disagree, but I do not believe that Harry Potter and CS Lewis fall into the same category. You shouldn't be in any danger of needing to toss out The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. CS Lewis openly acknowledged that his allegories were designed to illustrate the gospel for children, and his use of witches is always aligned with their evil role against Aslan, the Lion who is Christ.
Harry Potter, on the other hand, even though it is a novel - portrays witchcraft as being a good, desirable thing, as long as it is used for good purposes. Each book gets progressively darker, and it tantalizingly familiarizes children with sorcery, making witchcraft seem as innocent as any other hobby or pastime.
Both the Old and New Testaments speak strongly against all forms of witchcraft, leaving no room for fictional enjoyment of it. Deuteronomy 18:10-11 says "Let no one be found among you who... practices divination or sorcery, interprets omens, engages in witchcraft, or casts spells, or who is a medium or spiritist or who consults the dead."
Galatians talks about witchcraft too, lumping it in with some pretty ugly sins like immorality, debauchery, fits of rage, orgies, etc. Paul says, "I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God." (Galatians 5:19-21) Acts 19:19 says that people who came to believe in Jesus publicly burned everything they had about witchcraft, including their books and scrolls.
No one can dictate your conscience, and the lady in your church obviously has a controlling and un-Christlike attitude. But while you conscientiously reject her manipulation, prayerfully be sure that God isn't asking you to go ahead and make a different choice for reasons of his own.
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