Last week I was in INDOC, a two week period where a new command teaches you everything they want you to know about how things operate. Mostly, I got the idea that I wasn’t to be too familiar with students. It’s all wrapped up in fraternization and the like. I don’t have any trouble with the idea, though it does present a problem with ministry. More on that another time.
During one of the lectures, this time about diversity and equal opportunity, the issue of religious tolerance came up. The Navy has to make accommodations for religious services of any kind, as long as it’s a legitimate and recognized service. One religion that has come up a few times on my ships in the past, and was brought up by the instructor last week, was the Wiccan religion. The instructor asked if anyone had heard of it, and I have had dealings with Wiccans before, so I raised my hand. Scarcely had I started to do so, however, then did the hand of another sailor shoot up in the class.
He asked her what she knew about it, and she confessed to being a Wiccan. Then she proceeded to tell all about it, about witches, warlocks, paganism, the sun god and mother earth. Our instructor allowed this happily to show the types of religious differences we might come in contact with as Sailors. In essence, he was showing us that we needed to make accommodations for her beliefs as well as the usual suspects (Protestant, Catholic, Jewish, Muslim, etc), including how she had been given Halloween off because it is a holiday for Wiccans.
It hit me somewhere in the discussion that what was happening was wrong, but I couldn’t put my finger on why. It wasn’t until after a spirited Facebook exchange and talking with my wife that I realized the instructor had done exactly what we aren’t supposed to do. He had given on faith a platform that he didn’t offer any other faith. As a lay-leader for the Protestant faith, I should have been given equal time with her.
I didn’t even think to argue the point because that isn’t what I do, but I think I could have had a leg to stand on. In hindsight, I have found numerous places in the discussion where I could have interjected, and should have. It’s not my style though. I like canvassing a crowd, building relationships, and working the future discussions toward the issue of faith. I’m not much for the shotgun approach, which is what this would have been.
The more I think about it, however, the more I wish I would have said something. For one, it would have shown how convoluted the issue of religious tolerance really is and how impossible to provide perfectly equally for all faiths really is. More importantly, however, it would have provided seekers in the class with me an alternative. All they got that day was that no one was representing the Christian faith. I should have been that person.
What would you have done?