This is a reprint of the first half of an article I published on witchvox in February 2011 http://www.witchvox.com/va/dt_va.html?a=&c=words&id=14414, but it still seems appropriate...the second half will be posted here on thursday.
I've been thinking a lot lately about ecumenism among Pagan groups; maybe its the recent flurry of Pagan Pride Day planning, maybe its the common refrain that so many people love to sing about wanting the community to all get along. Either way it's been on my mind a lot, because it seems like, if everyone who wants unity among the various groups meant what they said, then we would already have it; yet as a community we are divided in many different ways.
Some people are limited by their own views of those outside of their particular group or tradition, some are stuck in old feuds or in personality conflicts, and some are simply stuck in the idea that their way is the only "real" way. So how do we overcome this? It seems easy enough, if we could only get everyone to acknowledge their own hang-ups and issues with unity we could all pull together - but realistically can it be done? Should it be done? Are there compromises that simply should not be made, not even for so often dreamed of a goal as this one?
When I started writing this I began by thinking of my own biggest block, a particular local leader that I have a small laundry list of issues with. And I asked myself, can I let these go? Some of them, I can answer yes for even though it would take effort. I am capable of letting the past go if I really put some energy into it, especially when he never did me, personally, any direct harm. It wouldn't be easy but it could be done; however if I am honest with myself there are other issues as well that I don't know if I could move past, ongoing things relating to integrity, truth in teaching - or I should say deception in teaching - and intentional perpetuation of ignorance that touch on areas where I have a much harder time looking the other way. And the bottom line of all this soul searching is that even when I try to put my personal feelings for this person aside, I am still left in a place where I do not want to be associated with him in any way.
How do we build community unity from that? And there is no other way; unity is not the same as tolerance. To be united as a community we must all stand together, and that is more than problematic when - in my own case - I have to always fight the urge to speak out against this person. How do we let go of the desire to let personal conflict and dislike interfere? How do we embrace community members that we simply do not like on a personal level?
How do we define our community? Who is in and who is out? Even within Paganism, in the subgroups of traditions and religions, this is a massive issue. How do we define "us"? We cannot hope to unite as a larger group of Pagans until we figure out who we are as smaller individual groups and that seems an impossible task when every sub-group is fractured by inner disputes. Group self-definition is like the Holy Grail, everyone is searching for it but no one can really find it. Do we include or exclude people convicted of crimes? All crimes, or only some?
Do we push out the snake oil salesman and false prophets that are selling lies while proclaiming it the only "real" Witchcraft/Heathenry/Druidism/etc., or would that very attempt put us on the same level of the more-pagan-than-thou types who cause so much dissention already? We must set boundaries for the safety of the community if nothing else, but how do we decide what those boundaries are and how do we enforce them?