Pagan social media has been abuzz with sharing a post by an evangelical bragging about standing outside a local pagan pride with a sign that says “Free Supernatural Hugs”. The post details staying under the radar by not identifying themselves as Christian, then using manipulation to get people to agree to a long hug and get their contact info for the purpose of later contacting them and trying to get them back to Christianity.
I am not naming the person here (if you are interested you will be able to find their name) because I don’t want to give them any boost. But I did read the comments, and they were fille with evangelicals praising their shamelessness and discussing other ways they had tricked pagans and LGBTQ people at different gatherings. There was one critical comment. Granted, that might be the Facebook algorithm or deletion at work, but that upset me more—the praise this scheme was getting.
Nevermind that some pagans do work with members of the Christian pantheon as part of their practice. Or that not al pagans left Christianity.
On the one hand, now that pagans know of this tactic they can guard against it. It is also clear these tactics are being used against LGBTQ people at gatherings. I do scratch my head at the level of self-righteousness—do they really think Pagans aren’t on social media? But I am furious we live in a world where we have to guard against spiritual abuse, manipulation, and deception like this. For safety, don’t ever give your contact info out unless the person gathering it clearly identifies what group they are with and what it will be used for, and has a standard sign up form—either paper or electronic.
The people this will hurt most are those new or unsure of their path. People in the process of leaving Christianity might see it as a sign they should return, and forget all the reasons they were leaving. While I do believe people will find their right path in the end, there can be many dead ends first. The irony of the information age is people are flooded with so much information it can be hard to find the good information—or another words, it can be hard for a newbie to figure out how to go about meeting other pagans. If someone curious about Paganism has this happen at their first event, I don’t want to think of the scarring that could lead to.
It also shows how morally bankrupt evangelicals are. Hospitality is sacred. There are times when pagans do need to fly under the radar for their own safety, and there is use to attending events of people with opposite views and goals. But flying under the radar means being a good guest, and simply observing and collecting information. If the evangelicals had set up a sign outside of the festival grounds and clearly identified who they were, that would be one thing. Most Pagan Prides are in public parks, and as long as thy aren’t disrupting the event they can do that.
But one thing that Pagan and LGBTQ pride have in common is they are safe spaces for people to explore an identity or a practice that they often can’t in other places. To see that as a “Harvest field” to try to peel back souls is grossly misunderstanding what that space is and why. Seeing religion as a scoreboard of souls on which team means missing what religion does here on earth.
If consent for touching is gained under manipulation or deception, it is not consent. Conspirituality did a deep dive into the Satanic panic in a series of special episodes called the swan Song, and made an observation that stuck with me: Framing all sexual activity outside of marriage as wrong removes the idea that consent from both parties is necessary. This makes it easier to let predators off the hook, because under that way of looking at sex both parties were wrong, and it fails to recognize the victim. It also explains why consent isn’t the basis for appropriate non-sexual touching for the free supernatural hugs. The evangelical “ends always justify the means” is completely blind to the harm these tactics cause. Or if they are aware of the harm, are able to justify it.
In a lot of ways, this shows as a microcosm of the different beliefs and values between Paganism and Christianity. Consent and truth vs deception for what is regarded as a greater good. Acceptance vs the need to make someone follow your path. Presenting who you are, in truth, when it is safe to do so. What happens in this world vs the vague promise of a different world no one can see or experience. Pagan festival organizers have one more tactic to be aware of. I just hope we are able to still have our safe places that I know so many need.